Published: Thu, February 07, 2019

France recalls Italy ambassador after worst verbal onslaught 'since the war'

France recalls Italy ambassador after worst verbal onslaught 'since the war'

A senior official at the Italian Foreign Ministry, who declined to be named discussing a sensitive issue, said the French decision to recall the ambassador was completely unexpected.

French authorities have condemned a meeting earlier this week held between Italy's deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio and the "yellow vest" leadership.

Tensions between Paris and Rome have escalated since June when the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and far-right League party came to power in Italy in a coalition government.

May 2017: Emmanuel Macron is elected President of France.

Paris and Rome have been snarling at each other since a populist coalition took power in Italy a year ago, with budget spending and immigration the main bones of contention. The interior minister and League chief has been rising in the Italian polls largely because of his success in stemming immigration, while Di Maio has been sliding in surveys, as many of his supporters feel he's been outmaneuvered by Salvini.

The insults of Macron do not affect me, they make me strong. Salvini called Macron a hypocrite; Macron referred to Italy's populists as lepers.

This extraordinary diplomatic rupture between two of the founding members of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies follows also the accusations launched by Mr Di Maio and his Government partner, interior minister Matteo Salvini, who accused Paris of neocolonialism.

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

February 2019: France recalls its ambassador to Italy, accusing Rome of "repeated accusations" and "unfounded attacks".

"All of these actions are creating a serious situation which is raising questions about the Italian government's intentions towards France", it added, making clear that Paris is increasingly anxious by Di Maio and Salvini's vocal support for the protest movement and its possible ramifications.

He accused Italy of "cynicism and irresponsibility" for closing its ports to the 629 migrants, who were stranded on the Aquarius vessel until Spain said the ship could land at its port of Valencia.

France's response appeared to catch Italy off guard.

Last month Di Maio said France's "colonial" policies in Africa had "impoverished" the continent's people and driven them to flee for Europe.

Levavasseur is a top yellow vest candidate for the May elections.

Yesterday the foreign ministry in Paris denounced as "unacceptable" the meeting between Italy's Di Maio and France's "yellow vest" anti-government protesters.

The French Foreign Ministry called that an "unacceptable" interference in French democracy, and unprecedented since the two neighbours joined together after the Second World War to help create the European Union.

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

The "gilets jaunes" protests against fuel tax hikes began last November, saying the measure hurt those who live in remote areas of France and depend on cars.

The French president is hoping to forge an alliance of pro-European centrists ahead of the bloc's parliamentary vote, against a wave of populist movements in several European countries.

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