Italy's PM says migration won't solve Europe's demographic crisis

Italian Prime Minister Meloni speaks during the Budapest Demographic Summit in Budapest

(Reuters) -Some legal migration can benefit European economies, but migration is not the solution to the continent's demographic crisis, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Thursday as she met right-wing ally Viktor Orban in Budapest.

Meloni was addressing a summit meeting on demography hosted by the Hungarian prime minister, a long-time political friend.

"I think that a quota of legal migration...can make a positive contribution to our economies, but I remain convinced that it would be more responsible for us to entrust European citizens with the solution to the European welfare system crisis," Meloni said.

Meloni's coalition, which came to power last October, has been pushing a nationalist agenda that includes a tough approach to migration, pledges to boost Italy's record low birth rate, legislation against LGBT parenting and the use of foreign words in official documents.

"We live in an era where everything that defines us is under attack," Meloni said, adding that defending the traditional model of the family and God was part of "a great battle" to protect humankind and the rights of people.

Carlo Calenda, a centrist Italian opposition politician, called the reference to God "truly singular for the head of government of a liberal democracy. One might say that God does not need Meloni's defence," he wrote on X.

Orban, writing on the same social media, said Italy and Hungary were "leading the way" in shifting EU politics towards the right. "We need more #conservative governments in Europe to make a change in Brussels," he said.

Meloni faces a mounting migration crisis at home, where the tiny, far-southern Italian island of Lampedusa has seen thousands of people coming ashore from Northern Africa over the last few days.

Despite its pledges, Meloni's government has been unable to stem rising migrant flows. Nearly 126,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, compared with around 66,000 in the same period in 2022.

In a statement, the Italian government said Meloni and Orban agreed on the need for quick and determined action on migration, and calling on the European Union to provide a "collective response".

The two leaders said "strong political and economic support" should be granted to migrants' countries of origin and transit and more efforts were needed to fight human smugglers and repatriate those who have no right to stay.

(Reporting by Federico Maccioni and Angelo Amante; editing by Alvise Armellini, Mark Heinrich and Hugh Lawson)