Sicily can’t shut down migrant detention centres, Italian court rules

An Italian court Thursday slapped down a decree issued by Sicily's regional governor Nello Musumeci ordering the closure of migrant centres on the island.

Sicily can't shut down migrant detention centres, Italian court rules
Photo: AFP
The Sicilian regional administrative court approved an appeal lodged by the central government in Rome for Sunday's decree to be scrapped, the AGI news agency reported.
Musumeci has clashed with officials in Rome over the issue, but anti-migrant opposition League party leader Matteo Salvini praised the move ahead of local elections next month.
The Sicilian leader had ordered that all migrants on the island's “hot spots” and reception centres be transferred to facilities outside the island.
Musumeci's decree also banned any migrant from “entering, transiting and stopping over on the Sicilian region's territory with vessels big and small, including those belonging to charities.”
READ ALSO: Dozens of migrants flee second quarantine centre in Sicily
A migrant detention centre in Sicily. Photo: AFP
But the court disagreed, saying “there was no rigorous investigation to demonstrate that the spread of Covid-19 was worsening among the local population because of the migration phenomenon.”
Sicily has no real means to transfer migrants outside the island, and interior ministry officials say migration is legally a central government prerogative.
The measures announced by Musumeci, who was elected on a right-wing ticket, “seemed to go beyond the scope of the powers conferred upon regions,” in
managing the coronavirus crisis, the court said.
Migration has for years been a hot-button political issue in Italy, a main EU landing point for people crossing the Mediterranean and arriving in Sicily and sister island Lampedusa.
People from Libya arrive on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on July 31st, 2020. Photo: AFP
The court will now convene again on September 17 at Sicily's request which is planning to present new evidence to boost its case.
While dozens of migrants hosted in detention centres in Sicily have tested positive for Covid-19, health officials say the spread is due to conditions at the centres which are overcrowded with migrants who have been arriving daily by the hundreds in recent weeks.
From August 1st last year to July 31st this year, over 21,600 migrants arrived at Italy's shores – almost 150 percent more than the near 8,700 landings the year before, according to official data.
Despite the sharp rise, the number of migrant arrivals is still far below numbers recorded in recent years, especially before Rome signed a deal with Libya for its coast guard to prevent migrant departures.

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Why Italy is fighting EU plans to limit vehicle emissions

Italy's government is leading a revolt against an EU plan for a green car transition, vowing to protect the automotive industry in a country still strongly attached to the combustion engine - despite the impact of climate change.

Why Italy is fighting EU plans to limit vehicle emissions

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s hard-right coalition, which came into office last October, tried and failed to block EU plans to ban the sale of new cars running on fossil fuels by 2035, which her predecessor Mario Draghi had supported.

But this week the government took the fight to planned ‘Euro 7’ standards on pollutants, joining with seven other EU member states – including France and Poland – to demand Brussels scrap limits due to come into force in July 2025.

READ ALSO: Why electric cars aren’t more popular in Italy

“Italy is showing the way, our positions are more and more widely shared,” claimed Enterprise Minister Adolfo Urso, a fervent proponent of national industry in the face of what he has called an “ideological vision” of climate change.

The EU plan “is clearly wrong and not even useful from an environmental point of view”, added Transport Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, which shares power with Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy.

Salvini led the failed charge against the ban on internal combustion engines, branding it “madness” that would “destroy thousands of jobs for Italian workers” while he claimed it would benefit China, a leader in producing electric vehicles.

Electric car being charged

Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

Federico Spadini from Greenpeace Italy lamented that “environmental and climate questions are always relegated to second place”, blaming a “strong industrial lobby in Italy” in the automobile and energy sectors.

“None of the governments in recent years have been up to the environmental challenge,” he told AFP.

“Unfortunately, Italy is not known in Europe as climate champion. And it’s clear that with Meloni’s government, the situation has deteriorated,” he said.

Low demand

Jobs are a big factor. In 2022, Italy had nearly 270,000 direct or indirect employees in the automotive sector, which accounted for 5.2 percent of GDP.

The European Association of Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA) has warned that switching to all electric cars could lead to more than 60,000 job losses in Italy by 2035 for automobile suppliers alone.

READ ALSO: Italians and their cars are inseparable – will this ever change?

“Since Fiat was absorbed by Stellantis in 2021, Italy no longer has a large automobile industry, but it remains big in terms of components, which are all orientated towards traditional engines,” noted Lorenzo Codogno, a former chief economist at the Italian Treasury.

For consumers too, the electric revolution has yet to arrive.

Italy has one of the highest car ownership rates in Europe: ranking fourth behind Liechtenstein, Iceland and Luxembourg with 670 passenger cars per 1,000 inhabitants, according to the latest Eurostat figures from 2020.

But sales of electric cars fell by 26.9 percent in 2022, to just 3.7 percent of the market, against 12.1 percent for the EU average.

Electric cars charge at a hub in central Milan on March 23, 2023. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Subsidies to boost zero emissions vehicles fell flat, while Minister Urso has admitted that on infrastructure, “we are extremely behind”.

Italy has just 36,000 electric charging stations, compared to 90,000 for the Netherlands, a country the fraction of the size of Italy, he revealed.

READ ALSO: These are the most (and least) eco-friendly towns in Italy

“There is no enthusiasm for electric cars in Italy,” Felipe Munoz, an analyst with the automotive data company Jato Dynamics, told AFP.

“The offer is meagre, with just one model manufactured by national carmaker Fiat.”

In addition, “purchasing power is not very high, people cannot afford electric vehicles, which are expensive. So the demand is low, unlike in Nordic countries.”

Gerrit Marx, head of the Italian truck manufacturer Iveco, agrees.

“We risk turning into a big Cuba, with very old cars still driving around for years, because a part of the population will not be able to afford an electric model,” he said.