Castaways and Shipwrecks in Mare Nostrum

A former “special advisor” to Frontex, the EU’s border control agency, declares that Libyan trafficking gangs, since "Mare Nostrum", have begun calling the Italian authorities to warn them of boatloads of smuggled immigrants in arrival, so they can save fuel for the boats "because they expect them to be picked up” (Leggilo in italiano)

‘I’d like to reserve for some castaways’ — Amid the confused ritual mourning for the most recent tragedy of the sea—the loss of something between 700 and 900 North African migrants in the Strait of Sicily—the principal Italian newspapers somehow failed to find space for an interesting piece of news coming from outside the country.

Graham Leese, a former manager of the Britain’s Immigration Service and “special advisor” to Frontex, the European Union’s border control agency, told the London Telegraph that Libyan trafficking gangs have begun calling the Italian authorities to warn them of boatloads of smuggled immigrants in arrival, a practice that allows them to “not put as much fuel in the boats as they usually do because they expect them to be picked up.”

The comments further sharpen the European controversy about how to limit the vast tide of undocumented immigrants from Africa. Many EU members states opposed Italy’s previous “Mare Nostrum” maritime rescue program not because it was too expensive, but rather because it was too effective. These countries—led by Germany and the UK—did not see the rescue of more than 160 thousand persons pulled from the sea (UNHCR data) in 2014 as a humanitarian triumph but rather as a “taxi service” that only encouraged further illegal immigration.

The compromise solution which followed, the “Triton” program—defined as “minimalist” by a Bloomberg Agency news writer—was not designed to save lives but rather to defend EU borders. It’s an approach that, though highly costly in terms of human lives, has failed to check the flow of migrants, which is instead growing.


About Greek money — A high profile debate is underway about the Greek national debt and the risk that Greece may ultimately have to leave both the euro and the European Union: the so-called “Grexit.”

As can happen when politics come to the front, the underlying key issue has been largely forgotten. Alex Brazier, Executive Director for financial stability strategy and risk at the Bank of England, recently pointed out in simple, clear words that: “There is no realistic scenario under which Greece will repay its debts.” Just that. European maneuvering does not then aim at finding a way to recover the money lost, but instead has as its objective masking the huge loss and putting off facing the consequences as long as possible.

To make the question even more embarrassing, the Greeks—who know better than anyone that they no longer have that cash—fail to see why they should support what amounts to a European Union PR campaign. A few days ago the President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, grumbled about this, saying that: “It’s a problem, they are not collaborating the way we would like because they’re not allowing our team in Athens to enter Ministry building, something that is not just odd, but unacceptable.”  That’s like saying, “The hospitality sucks too.”

It’s perfectly true that the US, the United Kingdom, Japan—much less Italy—will themselves never be able to pay off their own national debt under any “realistic scenario,” but they are able to cover interest payments and to roll-over their loans on expiration. Greece instead no longer has, in practice, a functioning economy.


No (more) global — In the three decades leading up to the financial crisis beginning in 2008, global trade grew at a rate twice that of the world economy—registering, according to the World Trade Organization, an annual increase of 5.1% beginning in 1990. In 2014 international trade grew by just 2.8%, meaning that for three straight years it has expanded at or below the rate of the overall world economy. It is looking very much like the epoch of globalization has (at least for the moment) come to an end.

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