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France recalls ambassador to Italy

February 7, 2019

The diplomatic rupture between the EU neighbors and NATO members escalated after a series of provocations by Italy's populist leaders. Deputy premier Luigi Di Maio met with 'yellow vest' protesters in France.

The French Embassy in Rome
Image: Getty Images/AFP/T. Fabi

France recalled Ambassador Christian Masset for consultations on Thursday after a series of "provocations" from Italian political leaders, France's Foreign Ministry said.

"France has been, for several months, the target of repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements," the ministry said in a statement. "This is without precedent since the end of World War II."

On Tuesday, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio had traveled to Paris to meet members of the "yellow vest" protest movement

"The latest interference is an additional and unacceptable provocation," the French ministry said, describing the remarks as a bid to win votes in the European elections in May. "Having disagreements is one thing, but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims is another."

Di Maio takes on France

Italy's government, composed of Di Maio's anti-establishment Five-Star Movement and the anti-immigrant League party, has butted heads with France on issues from immigration to African policy.

Luigi Di Maio in Rome
Luigi Di Maio in RomeImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/ANSA/R. Antimiani

France's Foreign Ministry summoned Italy's ambassador last month after Di Maio had accused France of causing people to migrate to Europe from Africa. He said that France had "never stopped colonizing" African nations and called for EU sanctions against France for its policies which impoverished Africa.

Di Maio criticized the French government for protecting the elite, and said "a new Europe is being born of the 'yellow vests', of movements, of direct democracy."

Salvini and migrants

Italy has two deputy premiers. Matteo Salvini heads the right-wing Lega (League) party and is also interior minister and deputy prime minister. He said the Italian government did not want "to argue with anyone, we are not interested in polemics," according to a press statement on Thursday.

Matteo Salvini in parliament
Matteo Salvini in parliamentImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Antimiani

While happy to meet President Emmanuel Macron for talks, Salvini repeated his demand that French police stop pushing migrants back into Italy. 

He has also made his opinion of Macron clear: "I hope the French will be able to free themselves of a terrible president," Salvini said in a Facebook video last month. "The opportunity will come on May 26 (the European elections) when finally the French people will be able to take back control of their future, destiny, (and) pride, which are poorly represented by a character like Macron," he said.

Last year, Macron criticized Italy for closing its ports to a charity-operated migrant rescue boat.  

jm,dv/ng (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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