Italy has suspended its decision on the Global Compact in order to put that to its Parliament. Vitalba Azzolini explains the concrete implications of the GCM.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) was adopted by representatives of 160 UN Member States at the Intergovernmental Conference held in Marrakech on 10th December, with a view to being ratified at the UN General Assembly on 19th December. Italy is one of the countries – with the U.S., the Visegrad countries (Poland, Hungary, Czechia and Slovakia), Australia, Austria, the Dominican Republic, Lithuania and Switzerland – that have either not signed or have suspended their decision to sign the document. In particular, our Government has considered necessary to «put the debate to Parliament and to leave the final choice to the outcome of such debate, as Switzerland has also done (…), reserving the right to support or not the document only once the Parliament will have expressed its view». It may be helpful to explain the concrete implications of this agreement, and the extent to which it dovetails with certain national policy choices.
It should first of all be said that the GCM is an intergovernmental agreement, which «fosters international cooperation among all relevant actors on migration, acknowledging that no State can address migration alone, and upholds the sovereignty of States and their obligations under international law». The text was agreed at the summit of the UN General Assembly of 19 September 2016, where the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was unanimously adopted, confirming the need for a shared global approach to human mobility.
Comprised of 23 shared objectives, the pact sets out an international governance framework on international migration, consistent with the UN’s Agenda 2030 for sustainable development. It is «a non-legally binding, cooperative framework…» including a number of guiding principles, which does not undermine the sovereignty of signatory Countries as the text of the agreement also clarifies («… upholds the sovereignty of States»). In the past few years, these types of acts (also known as ‘soft law’ acts) have been adopted at the international level when States have failed to come to a collective agreement. Although this has made it more difficult to adopt legal instruments to reflect a collective consensus, States have appreciated the need for greater policy convergence on shared issues to be officially endorsed at the international level.
Up until a few weeks ago, Italy was in favour of signing up to the Global Compact. As a Country that has always complained about the lack of solidarity from other States and has found itself managing migration flows alone, Italy could only welcome a collective approach to this issue. In fact, on 26th September the Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared at the UN General Assembly that «Italy has been involved in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean (…) often on its own» and that «the migration phenomenon we face requires a structured and multi-level response by the international community for the short, medium and long-term. On this basis, we support the Global Compact on migration and refugees». Moreover, the Minister for Home Affairs Matteo Salvini, has always said to be in favour of regular migration, which is also the approach of the GCM. Objective 5 enhances the availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration; objective 9 aims to strengthen the transnational response to the smuggling of migrants; objective 11 focuses on managing borders in an integrated, secure and coordinated manner to discourage irregular migration while favouring legal migration flows; and objective 21 relates to the return of irregular migrants. But primarily, the Global Compact also encompasses what the leader of the Lega, Matteo Salvini, has always argued for (“let us help them where they come from”) in its objective to “minimize the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin».
However, it should be noted that it would have been challenging for the current Government to support the GCM given that it has recently passed new legislation on security and immigration which, among other things, will lead to an increase in the number of illegal immigrants while also making life harder for those who are living legally in the country. In addition, the new Italian budget regulation provides for a tax of 1.5% on remittances to non-EU countries (also labelled as the ‘tax on regular migrants’, which adds to other existing ones on residence permits and naturalisations). The Global Compact appears to be at odds with the direction taken by the Italian executive, as it aims to improve the quality of life for migrants. It does this, for example, by facilitating the recognition of their academic and professional qualifications in the receiving countries; promoting the transfer of remittances to their countries of origin; and fostering respect for diversity and social inclusion with the aim of eliminating all forms of discrimination. And perhaps it would have been even harder for the Government to support the statement, also included in the Global Compact, that: «Migration has been part of the human experience throughout history, and we recognize that it is a source of prosperity, innovation and sustainable development in our globalized world, and that these positive impacts can be optimized by improving migration governance». But not subscribing to this consideration also means ignoring a factual reality: when immigration is enabled through legal channels, when it is well managed and supported by pathways for integration, it adds value to a country.
Nevertheless, the GCM remains a non-legally binding document, which does not lead signatories to give up their sovereignty. As such, it is not a “dangerous” document. Not supporting it, distances Italy from so many other countries in the world that have adopted it in order to collectively manage a phenomenon that “no State can address alone”. This can only serve one purpose: to continue promoting a distortionary propaganda on an issue – immigration – that has enabled one of the two parties currently in the Italian Government to gain significant political support in the last electoral campaign and which, clearly, they wish to do again in the next campaign.
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