This paper deals with what I contend has been a gradual ‘Europeanization’ of Italy’s migration regime and related methods intended to control, manage, and stem the increasing number of migrants arriving by way of the Mediterranean and hailing from Northern Africa and beyond. My aim will be to historicize this process and illustrate that its roots and reasons stretch back at least to the ‘Oil Shock’ of 1973, which brought a new urgency to European relations with Maghreb and Arab countries. This tumultuous relationship would set the stage for deliberations of what later became the Schengen Agreement, which in turn brought both increasing European integration and a hardening of external borders toward a Global South, which is now seemingly considered expendable.
After the 2015 ‘Migration Crisis’ a focus on securitizing Schengen area borders and externalizing migration control has dominated deliberations between the countries of the European Union, as well as EU dealings with bordering nation states. Italy sits at the geographical and political crossroads of this situation, and its migration regime has gradually come to shape the EU’s handling of Mediterranean migration. Paradoxically, this regime entails a willingness to flout rule of law and human rights precedents upheld by European institutions themselves. This article brings together scholarly work from a variety of disciplines to historicize the prerequisites, development, and transfer of Italian migration management methods from national to supranational levels. The article traces increasing European integration and a hardening of external borders towards a Global South, through the aftermath of the 1973 ‘Oil Crisis’, the formation of the Schengen Area based on French and West German demands for a stricter migration policy, domestic Italian political developments in the 1990s, and an externalizing of border control in the 2000s. The study argues that these developments are a result of complex and sometimes circular situations of pressure and coercion, but also surprising outcomes based on circumstances of immigration to Europe that no party had foreseen.