The new Italian government, formed by the Five Stars Movement and the League, also poses a challenge to the Catholic Church. However, it is not only its populist tones that create a division between State and religious powers, in a country where ecclesiastic hierarchies have always had a strong influence in decision making. The current battleground is the nationalist approach to immigration policies, a main pillar of the new government action. The official line of the Italian church, embodied by Pope Francis, insists on the evangelical duty of receiving people who cross the Mediterranean sea to reach Europe every week. The winners of the 2018 elections push in the opposite direction by pursuing restrictive policies.
According to Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini, the far-right League leader and the de facto prime minister, Italy can not afford to let new migrants enter the country. He claims that there are too many as it is, and that they are changing the country’s traditional way of life. Salvini’s guiding principle is ‘Italians first’. Hence his first acts were to close national ports to NGO boats carrying victims of shipwrecks, and to promise to cut public funds for asylum seekers’ assistance. Italy’s goal is to force its EU partners to accept mandatory quotas of migrants by changing the so-called Dublin Regulation. This position is shared by both government parties because they are widely popular among voters, although the Five Stars Movement is a less compact party than the League and risks a split in the long term.