A career civil servant and specialist in migration policy has succeeded the far-right leader Matteo Salvini as Italy’s interior minister in a new left-leaning pro-European coalition government aimed at drawing a line under a crisis sparked by Salvini’s populist League party.
Luciana Lamorgese, a 38-year veteran of the interior ministry, has in recent years been in charge of planning refugee and migrant reception centres in northern Italy and is known for promoting integration events and policies. She was also the first female security chief, or prefect, of Milan.
Her appointment should mark a break from the era of Salvini, whose hardline immigration measures included the closure of Italian ports to NGO rescue vessels and the abolition of key protections for asylum seekers.
The coalition assembled by the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, between the centre-left Democratic party (PD) and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) also includes Roberto Gualtieri, an influential PD member of the European parliament, as economy minister. The M5S leader, Luigi Di Maio, will be foreign minister.
The new government is expected to be sworn in on Thursday.
During the coalition negotiations, the PD repeatedly asked the M5S to abandon the migration policies of the previous government, in which it was in coalition with the League. The key was the abolition of a Salvini-drafted security decree that provided for the seizure of NGO rescue boats and fines for vessels that brought migrants to Italy without permission.
Dozens of captains of rescue boats and volunteers subsequently ended up under investigation, with at least eight in the last three months.
Prosecutors in Ragusa on Tuesday placed the German captain and the mission chief of the Eleonore rescue ship, operated by the NGO Mission Lifeline, under investigation on suspicion of encouraging illegal immigration. The captain had declared a state of emergency onboard and defied the entry ban, landing more than 100 migrants in Pozzallo, Sicily.
Last week Italian officials handed a €300,000 (£270,000) fine to the Mare Jonio, operated by the Italian NGO Mediterranea, which saved more than 100 migrants, including 22 children under the age of 10.
Although the number of migrant arrivals in Europe has practically halved in the last two years, hundreds of asylum seekers continue to attempt the crossing from north Africa. Last week, at least two known shipwrecks were registered, according to aid groups, with a total of almost 70 people drowned, while at least two boats have been completely lost.
In recent weeks, NGO vessels have saved more than 600 migrants in total. A French passenger ferry headed to Marseilles from Algiers on Monday rescued 18 people off the Balearic Islands.
Campaigners and aid groups hope that, with the new government and above all with the new minister of the interior, Italian policy on the migration crisis can finally change.
Graziano Delrio, the PD leader in the lower house, said on Wednesday that a new immigration law has been included in the new government’s political agenda.
Carlotta Sami, a spokesperson for the UNHCR in Italy, said: “There is a humanitarian crisis for which everyone must feel responsible for: the search and rescue at sea and the common management, at European level, of landings.
“There is a chance to carry out inclusion policies towards refugees, policies that consider them a resource and not a problem. There is a lot to do, but we hope Rome will resume the central and crucial role it deserves in these issues.’’
On Tuesday M5S members overwhelmingly backed a coalition with the PD in an online vote, giving the final backing to a deal between traditional foes.
“This turning point is good. Now it’s time to change Italy,” said the PD leader, Nicola Zingaretti. “We have stopped Salvini and the mere announcement of this phase is making Italy a protagonist again in Europe.”
Salvini, who pulled the plug on Conte’s last government on 8 August seeking snap elections he hoped would boost his party, described the new pro-European coalition as “a government born between Paris and Berlin and from the fear of leaving their posts, without dignity and without ideals, with the wrong people in the wrong place.
“They won’t be able to dodge the judgment of the Italians for too long. We’re ready … in the end it is us who will win.”
The new ministers will face confidence votes starting on Monday. By this time next week, the new government could already be settled in Rome, with Salvini forced to watch from the opposition benches.