"The Maroni-Sacconi regularisation decision will go down in history as the one which brought the number of foreigners in a multi-ethnic Italy to 5 million," writes Sole 24 Ore, in reference to the immigrant amnesty recently granted by Italian ministers of the Interior and Labour. "Now the average national extra-European population will reach a level comparable to the one in France or Germany." Gian Carlo Blangiardo of the University of Milan-Bicocca believes that this future "twenty-first Italian region" could solve the country's structural ills, an aging population and a falling birth rate.

The governmental act, annulling a "crime of clandestinity" just instituted by a security bill, was driven by the need to regularise the thousands of immigrants employed as domestic helpers in Italy. "The legislators certainly seem to be behaving like schizophrenics," commented Valerio Ondia, pointing out the incoherency innate in the hard line the government claims to be taking on the issue, and the reality of immigration. Ondia denounced Italian legislation which, since 2002, no longer admits immigrants who have the support of an employer, and the decision to deny recognition of the 1992 European Convention on Human Rights, which grants the right to vote to immigrants who have resided in an EU country for at least five years.

The immigration issue is polarising Belgium, too. For two years now, the coalition government has failed to reach an agreement. Meanwhile, human-rights advocates demonstrated, went on hunger strikes, and occupied churches. On Saturday, 18 July, the kingdom's ministers finally drafted "a series of instructions" to settle the fate of Belgium's undocumented aliens. "Undocumented: Van Rompuy's Victory," was the headline on the Belgian daily Le Soir. The report hailed "the Prime Minister's great success" in ending "a serious bone of contention within the governing majority, chiefly between French-speaking parties and Flemish liberals."

According to the regularisation criteria, undocumented people who have been the victims of "procedures that are too long", deemed a three-year wait for families with children enrolled in school, and four for others, will be granted papers. The agreement also provides for a possible regularisation for "sustained social roots". To be more explicit, the applicant's degree of integration will be a factor (knowledge of French or Flemish, social bonds formed in Belgium, etc.) Although any massive regularisation of asylum seekers is ruled out, some 25,000 of them will probably be eligible under these new provisions, according to the Flemish daily De Standaard.

Le Soir's editorialist concedes the agreement is "truly a small miracle for those who have been waiting years for a decision." However, she regrets the fact that in its current form, as "instructions" rather than a "memorandum", its lifespan will be limited. "The agreement has the flaw inherent to all Belgian immigration policy. This is another text which lacks any regulatory value. (...) As if the asylum issue were an evanescent one, likely to disappear overnight depending on the ups and downs of the political scene."

The Flemish press was also critical of a least-common-denominator agreement. "It's a lot of noise about nothing," an editorial in the daily De Standaard stated. "The government [has not defined] any criteria for the future, characterized by perilous judicial underpinnings." (…) The ministers carried out only half their duties." In Flemish daily Het Belang van Limburg, Jean-Marie Dedecker of the Flemish LDD Party (Lijst Dedecker, populist) expresses fears that this will be an incentive to future asylum-seekers: "America has her green card, Europe has a blue one [residence permit], but in Belgium, all we have is 'carte blanche', enabling anyone who crosses the border to settle in Belgium forever." Another reporter concerned about the "blurry legal bounds" of the text and the enigmatic "role as coordinator" it assigns to the PM, Paul Biret in La Libre Belgique, already sees political complications looming: "The Flemish are bound to brand any increase in regularisation 'Walloon laxity', regardless of the reason."