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The embarrassing dads causing trouble for Italy’s top politicians

Parents behaving badly are causing no end of headaches for their high-flying offspring in Italian politics, with Luigi Di Maio the latest in the spotlight.

The embarrassing dads causing trouble for Italy's top politicians
Luigi Di Maio. Photo: Tiziana Fabi / AFP

The EU may be waiting urgently for answers from Italy over its contested budget, but another hot topic is the talk of Rome's corridors of power: embarrassing dads.

Italian police last week seized land belonging to the father of deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio as part of a probe into alleged fraud and illegal employment at his company which has left his son – the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) – red faced and answering difficult questions.

But Antonio Di Maio is just the latest parent to embarrass his high-flying offspring in Italy's political circles.

“I'd like to look Luigi's father in the eye and say that I hope that he does not go through what his son and friends put my father and my family through,” former minister Maria Elena Boschi, 37, said on Twitter this week.

Boschi senior was investigated in late 2017 — and later cleared — in a scandal which saw his centre-left daughter accused of using her position to try to save a local bank where her father worked.

At the time, Luigi Di Maio's M5S party was quick to demand both Boschi's political scalp and that of her ally, former prime minister Matteo Renzi.

READ ALSO: Luigi Di Maio, the face of Italian populism

“My father was dragged through the mud by a campaign of hatred,” Boschi said.Renzi, 43, suffered his own headache after his father, Tiziano, was placed under investigation in early 2017 for alleged influence-peddling.

The case against him was shelved last month.

'The silent treatment'

“If I had done what Di Maio senior did, the M5S would already have launched an appeal on social networks for the return of the death penalty,” Tiziano Renzi said on Facebook. 

Luigi Di Maio, 32, has been quick to distance himself from his dad, saying that “for years we never even talked. We didn't have a good relationship”.

“There was a 'blackout' period because I didn't like some of the ways he was behaving,” he said.

The politician, who now owns half of his father's company, worked there for three months in 2008 and published his pay slip on Wednesday in an attempt to show the business had been run by the books.

But critics smelled a rat, questioning whether the young politician known for his dapper appearance really worked there as a manual labourer, as claimed.

“I believed the company respected the rules. I'm the one who now has to ask my father to explain,” he said.

Luigi di Maio. Photo: AFP

And even the father of Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has waded into the fray, calling for Di Maio to be left alone.

Di Maio is obliged under the movement's rules to step down as M5S chief after this mandate, but his likely successor, Alessandro Di Battista, is no luckier with his own father.

Vittorio Di Battista, his father, is a self-declared fascist who was placed under investigation earlier this year for threats to the Italian president after evoking the storming of the Bastille in Paris during the French revolution. 

“When the people of Paris attacked and destroyed that huge building, symbol of the evil of power, the vast mounds of rubble were then sold by a local builder, making him wealthy.”

“The Quirinale Palace (and presidential residence) is more than the Bastille, it has paintings, tapestries, rugs and statues,” he said in May in a now-deleted post on Facebook, according to Italian media.

The Bastille violence led to the overthrow — and eventual execution — of King Louis XVI.

Asked in 2015 if he would like his son to become foreign minister, Vittorio replied: “I would prefer interior minister. I hope he will become nastier than his old man.”

Meanwhile the usually outspoken Matteo Salvini, has been forced to bite his tongue over the latest scandal involving his co-deputy.

The head of the far-right League, which governs alongside the M5S, is doubtless quietly praying he escapes the parent trap.

His only comment: “I am happy my father is a quiet pensioner, who at most volunteers in the local parish or plays bridge,” he said on Tuesday.

READ ALSO:

MIGRANT CRISIS

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers met in Brussels on Friday to discuss the latest migrant crisis – a move that was precipitated by Italy's controversial clash with France over the handling of refugees.

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers gathered for crisis talks on Friday as an ugly row between Paris and Rome over how to handle would-be refugees forced a EU migration reform back onto their agenda.

New arrival numbers haven’t yet hit the levels of 2015 and 2016, but European capitals are concerned about new pressure on sea routes from North Africa and overland through the western Balkans.

And now, with winter temperatures descending in eastern Europe and Ukrainian cities facing power cuts under Russian bombardment, the European Union is braced for many more war refugees.

The bloc has been struggling for years to agree and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers, but a new dispute has brought the issue to the fore.

READ ALSO: Why are France and Italy rowing over migrants and what are the consequences?

Earlier this month, Italy’s new government under far-right leader Georgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.

The Ocean Viking eventually continued on to France, where authorities reacted with fury to Rome’s stance, suspending an earlier deal to take in 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.

The row undermined the EU’s stop-gap interim solution to the problem, and Paris called Friday’s extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states.

Migrants in Lampedusa, Italy

Earlier this month, France suspended a deal by which it would take as many as 3,500 refugees stranded in Italy. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Complaints from Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores like Italy and Greece that they were shouldering too much responsibility for migrants led to the previous plan.

A dozen EU members agreed to take on 8,000 asylum seekers – with France and Germany taking 3,500 each – but so far just 117 relocations have taken place.

‘Nothing new’

After Italy refused responsibility for the Ocean Viking, France has declared that it no longer wants to not only allow ships to arrive from Italian waters but also take in thousands of other migrants.

On Monday, in a bid to revive the mechanism, the European Commission unveiled another action plan to better regulate arrivals on the central Mediterranean route.

“Obviously the meeting was set up following the spat between Italy and France over the migrants aboard the Ocean Viking,” a European diplomat said.

“The action plan that was shared with member states is perfectly fine, but contains nothing new, so it isn’t going to solve the migration issue.”

Stephanie Pope, an expert on migration for the aid agency Oxfam, dubbed Brussels’ plan “just another reshuffle of old ideas that do not work”. 

“It is a waste of time,” she said.

The plan would see a closer coordination between EU national authorities and humanitarian NGOs on rescues of migrants whose make-shift, overcrowded boats are in difficulty.

And it would see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants boarding smuggler vessels in the first place.

READ ALSO: Italy arrests suspected trafficker over deaths of seven migrants

France would like a new framework within which NGO boats could operate – neither a total ban nor a carte blanche to import would-be refugees.

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse the humanitarian charities of operating without respect to national authorities and of effectively encouraging immigration.

Migrants on a boat arriving in Italy

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse NGOs of operating with disregard to national authorities. Photo by Gianluca CHININEA / AFP

Other member states, including Germany, argue that there can be no limits on humanitarian operations – all seafarers are obliged by the law of the sea to save travellers in danger. 

Ahead of the talks, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, warned: “With almost 2,000 people having already died or gone missing so far this year alone, urgent action is needed.”

Grandi welcomed the European Commission’s draft plan for state-led rescues and predictable ports of disembarkation, adding: “While states point fingers and trade blame, lives are lost.”

Border force

While France and Italy argue about high-profile cases of dramatic rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.

Almost 130,000 undocumented migrants are estimated to have come to the bloc since the start of the year, an increase of 160 percent, according to the EU border force Frontex.

On Thursday, the Czech, Austrian, Slovak and Hungarian ministers met in Prague ahead of the trip to Brussels to stress that this route accounts for more than half of “illegal arrivals” in the bloc.

Austrian interior minister Gerhard Karner said the EU should finance border protection and give members “a legal tool to return people who come for economic reasons”.

Diplomats said France and Italy would try to dominate the talks with complaints about sea arrivals, while Greece and Cyprus would point fingers at Turkey for allegedly facilitating illegal entries.

Central and eastern countries would focus on the Balkans route and, as one diplomat said, “Hungary and Poland don’t want anything to do with anything in the field of migration.”

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