Italy on Friday started expelling European Union citizens considered a threat to society. The move came amid a crime wave involving many immigrants from new EU member Romania – and after a deadly assault on a navy officer’s wife that shocked the nation.
Giovanna Reggiani, 47, died Thursday night after two days in a coma. Her autopsy was performed on Friday. The alleged aggressor, a 24-year-old Romanian gypsy (Roma) named Nicolae Romolus Mailat, was arrested on suspicion of homicide and robbery. A hearing Friday is expected to charge him with murder and robbery.
Reggiani suffered “massive” head injuries consistent with blows from a blunt object such as a rock, police said.
Mailat has denied hitting the woman, saying he only stole her bag. An emergency decree allowing the expulsion of potentially dangerous EU immigrants was issued Wednesday night and signed by President Giorgio Napolitano on Thursday night. It is expected to go into force after publication in Italy’s Official Gazette at midnight Friday.
Italian Police Chief Antonio Manganelli said authorities had already identified candidates whose record, including past convictions, qualified them as likely candidates for expulsion. Manganelli said the lists were being drawn up “with absolute respect for human dignity, avoiding a witch-hunt and without criminalising ethnic groups“. Under their new powers, prefects will be able to send them out of Italy without trial. Italian officials say that the new expulsion orders are allowed under EU law. One could wonder why the Italian government is realizing only right now, that there’s a EU law allowing this crackdown. It is a kind of rhetoric question, of course.
EU citizens are allowed to travel freely within the community. Romanians have flowed into Italy since Bucharest joined the EU in January and they now make up the biggest foreign community here. As we wrote a few weeks ago:
Mr.Prodi’s was the only Euro Area government, last January, to immediately allow Romanian citizens to enter Italy without visas, whereas other European countries decided to keep visas. As a result, the number of Romanians involved in crime offences is exploding.
Romanians top recent crime statistics for serious crimes like murder, rape and robbery. Rome Mayor and leader of the newly established Democratic Party, Walter Veltroni, said Romanians accounted for 75% of the city’s arrests on those charges from January to September. Amid the emotion aroused by the attack that dominated news this week, Premier Romano Prodi pledged such incidents would “never happen again”. The centre-right opposition has long accused Prodi’s centre-left government of being soft on crime. Ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI) party on Friday called Prodi “a liar” for claiming the immigration problem was ignored by the previous government, Mayor Veltroni should resign, it said, for allegedly under-estimating problems Forza Italia has been highlighting for some time.
Another conservative leader, Gianfranco Fini of the National Alliance (AN), said the government should be “ashamed of itself”. “Better late than never,” he said. Fini has said AN will vote to ratify the decree provided it also covers jobless immigrants while FI merely said it would only vote for a “serious” measure. Apart from opposition criticism, Prodi is facing murmurs from the left wing of his nine-party coalition about appearing to move in response to a single event and under the lead of Veltroni, who was recently elected head of the new Democratic Party which Prodi nominally chairs. Bullzozers moved into a gypsy camp on Friday and Rome Prefect Carlo Mosca said other camps around the city – like the one near which Tuesday night’s victim was attacked – would “soon” be evacuated. The expulsion measure was approved under pressure from Veltroni: it had already been included in a crime package due to be sent to parliament, but was plucked out and became an emergency decree.
Romania has offered support to Italy while stressing the need to discriminate and noting that it can’t bring people back “by force”. Three Romanian police officers flew in Thursday to join five colleagues who are already part of crime task forces in Rome, Milan, Bologna and Padua, Prodi noted. Another two men from Bucharest will be arriving in the next few days to help Italian police. Italian police have voiced fears of a potentially violent backlash against immigrants – with vigilante patrols already reported in northern Italy.
The new decree does not apply to cases that go to court. However, Justice Minister Clemente Mastella and his Romanian counterpart Tudor Chiuariu agreed on Thursday that many convicted Romanians, who now form a large part of Italy’s prison population, will be flown back to serve out their sentences in Romania.
Better late than never, we agree. We needed a tragic death in Rome, the city led by the “new” leftist leader, for the government to wake up to reality.