Italy deputy PM mentions interconnector in veiled threat to Malta over migrant crisis

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio has made a veiled threat to Malta by bringing up the interconnector while criticising the island for refusing entry to the Aquarius.

Interviewed on Rai Uno’s Porta a Porta on Tuesday evening, di Maio said the Aquarius incident revealed the EU’s “hypocrisy” in asking Italy and Malta to solve the problem.

Critical of the fact that France and Spain had closed ports for migrant rescue ships, di Maio then turned his guns on Malta.

It was at this juncture that he underscored the fact that Italy supplied Malta with electricity through an interconnector from Ragusa. “I am sorry for Malta. We supply Malta with electricity from a cable in Ragusa and they closed their ports,” he said.

He was referring to the incident involving the migrant rescue ship Aquarius, which was at the centre of a standoff between both countries last week.

Di Maio also erroneously said that Malta refused to accept the ship despite having been in its search and rescue area (SAR). The rescue did not happen in Malta’s SAR.

The Aquarius, a ship run by SOS Mediterranee, had rescued 629 migrants deep inside the Libyan area of competence in an operation coordinated by Rome.

Malta maintained its stand that the ship should have disembarked the migrants at the nearest, safest port of call, which would have been Lampedusa.

However, Italian authorities ordered the ship to stay put in international waters – an act deemed to be illegal – some 27 nautical miles off Malta.

The standoff was resolved when Spain stepped in and accepted to receive the migrants.

With Di Maio bringing up the interconnector, the tension between Italy and Malta over the migrant crisis, sees no end in sight. The interconnector is a crucial cog in Malta’s energy infrastructure, supplying up to 200MW of electricity.

Di Maio is the head of Cinque Stelle, the party that emerged the largest political force after the March elections but not strong enough to form a government on its own. His party only managed to form a coalition with the hard-line Lega after months of political talks to resolve the election impasse.

Since the formation of the new Italian government, the country has shifted its policy on migration.

Di Maio told his host Bruno Vespa yesterday that “from now on nothing will be the same”.

Italy has taken the brunt of migrant arrivals in the Central Mediterranean over the past years, a situation that has created social tension in a country that is also struggling economically.

Italy is asking for a European solution to the problem, something that appears increasingly unlikely to be achieved in 10 days’ time when EU leaders meet in a summit.