France recalls ambassador to Italy

"France has been, for several months, the target of repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements," its foreign ministry said in a statement.

February 7, 2019 16:39
2 minute read.
Italy's Minister of Labor and Industry Luigi Di Maio, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Interior Min

Italy's Minister of Labor and Industry Luigi Di Maio, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. (photo credit: REUTERS/REMO CASILLI)


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France has recalled its ambassador in Rome on Thursday after what it described as baseless and repeated attacks from Italy's political leaders, whom it urged to return to a more friendly stance.

"France has been, for several months, the target of repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements," its foreign ministry said in a statement.
"Having disagreements is one thing, but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims is another," it added, calling Italy's attacks without precedent since World War Two.

the Italian foreign ministry had no immediate comment about the French decision, which a diplomatic source said was unprecedented since 1945.

Relations between Italy and France, generally close allies, have worsened since Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, and fellow Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, angered the French leadership.

Di Maio accused Paris of creating poverty in Africa, while Salvini accused France of doing nothing to bring peace to Libya.

Di Maio, who also leads the populist, anti-establishment 5-Star Movement formed a coalition government in Italy last year and took aim at pro-European Union Macron's En Marche (On the Move) party.

Di Maio said he met leaders of France's "yellow vest" anti-government movement leader Christophe Chalencon and candidates on the grassroots movement's list for European Parliament elections in May.

"The winds of change have crossed the Alps," Di Maio said on Twitter. He has previously expressed support for the movement.

The at time violent "yellow vests" protests have been a political thorn in President Emmanuel Macron's side since November as support among the French electorate for his reform agenda has ebbed.

France's foreign ministry slammed the meeting between Di Maio and leaders of France's "yellow vest" movement, accusing him of undermining relations between the two European neighbors.

"This new provocation is not acceptable between neighboring countries and partners in the European Union," a foreign ministry spokesman said in a daily online briefing.

"Mr Di Maio, who holds government responsibilities, must take care not to undermine, through his repeated interferences, our bilateral relations, in the interest of both France and Italy."

France has already summoned Italy's ambassador in the past, after Di Maio, accused Paris of creating poverty in Africa and generating mass migration to Europe.

"Macron may no longer be our interlocutor (in the future)," Matteo Salvini said in an interview with Italian state-owned radio RAI. "His support is less than 20 percent. I hope the French people can shortly make different choices," he said, referring to May's European elections.

"These unfounded statements should be read in the context of domestic Italian politics. They are unacceptable," foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a daily online briefing.

"This (row) does not call into question our historic friendship with France, nor with the French people. This relationship remains strong and steady in spite of any political dispute," Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a statement.

French President Emmanuel Macron dismissed as insignificant the recent verbal attacks by Italy's two deputy prime ministers, saying he dealt only with Conte.

Di Maio responded to Macron's comments, reiterating that Paris was impoverishing some African states and creating the conditions for immigration flows towards Italy.

"This is not an attack to France or the French people ... it is an issue that has been debated for a long time in France and is among the demands of the 'yellow vests' movement," the Italian politician said.

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