Thursday, 9 Apr 2020

France recalls Italy envoy amid war of words over yellow vests

Move comes amid mounting tension between allies after Italian official held talks with French yellow vest protesters.

    France recalled its ambassador to Rome on Thursday in a move unprecedented since World War II saying it was fed up with “repeated, baseless” attacks by Italian political leaders on the country.

    The move came amid mounting tensions between the two European Union members after Italy’s deputy prime minister met French yellow vest protesters.

    France’s foreign ministry recalled its ambassador to Rome for consultations after a series of comments from Italy’s two deputy prime ministers, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini.

    “For several months, France has been the subject of repeated accusations, unfounded attacks and outlandish claims,” the ministry said in a statement, calling the situation “unprecedented”.

    Di Maio and Salvini, who formed a populist coalition government together last year, have repeatedly criticised French President Emmanuel Macron, who has, in turn, targeted their “eurosceptic actions” before high-stakes European Parliament elections in May.

    The latest spat erupted on Tuesday after Di Maio, head of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, revealed he had met “yellow vest” anti-government protesters outside Paris.

    He said the aim was to prepare a common front for European Parliament elections in May, while boasting on Twitter “the wind of change has crossed the Alps.”

    “The most recent interferences constitute an additional and unacceptable provocation,” the French foreign ministry said.

    ‘Terrible president’

    Macron has blasted the Italian government’s “cynicism and irresponsibility” after it began preventing rescue boats with migrants and refugees on board from docking at Italian ports and compared the rise of far-right nationalism to leprosy.

    The verbal sparring has only intensified since with Salvini calling Macron a “terrible president” last month in a Facebook video.

    “We don’t want to row with anyone,” Salvini said on Thursday in a statement. “We’re not interested in controversies: we are serious people and we are defending Italian interests.”

    He called for the two countries to find a solution to problems that have caused tensions, including French border controls on the Italian border and demands by Rome for the extradition of far-left Italian fighters who live in France.

    Salvini and De Maio angered Macron, in particular, by publicly supporting the yellow vest protesters who have taken to the streets to denounce high-living costs and a perceived indifference by the government to rural and small-town France.

    Last month, Paris summoned Italy’s ambassador to protest Di Maio’s accusation that France was encouraging immigration to Europe “because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonising dozens of African countries”. 

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