France withdraws Italian ambassador

The French ambassador to Italy has been recalled following “baseless attacks and outrageous statements” from Italy’s populist coalition government.

France said Italy’s verbal assaults were without precedent since the Second World War and Rome claimed France was sheltering Italian criminals.

President Emmanuel Macron has been criticised on a series of sensitive issues by Italy’s two deputy prime ministers: Matteo Salvini of the far-right Lega and Luigi Di Maio of the Five-Star Movement, who entered power last year.

Last month, Salvini described Macron as “terrible president” and said France was doing nothing to bring peace to Libya.

He said France must address three “fundamental” issues: the French police must to stop pushing immigrants back into Italy, cease prolonged border checks blocking traffic and extradite around 15 Italian left-wing militants who were living in France.

“I hope the French will be able to free themselves of a terrible president,” Salvini said on Facebook.

“The opportunity will come on May 26 when finally the French people will be able to take back control of their future, destiny, pride, which are poorly represented by a character like Macron,” the anti-migrant populist said.

Salvini is close to Macron’s presidential rival, the National Rally’s Marine Le Pen. The extremist party is tied with Macron’s party in opinion polls ahead of the May European elections.

This week Di Maio met yellow vest activists outside Paris thinking of running in the elections.

He said the aim was to prepare a common front for the elections in May, while tweeting: “The wind of change has crossed the Alps.”

Di Maio denounced Macron for protecting the privileged. “A new Europe is being born of the ‘yellow vests’, of movements, of direct democracy,” he said.

France’s yellow vest movement has become the most serious challenge to Macron’s presidency, protesting against economic reforms and fuel taxes seen as favouring the rich while taxing the incomes of struggling households.

Macron, who was under domestic pressure for not accepting the Aquarius migrant rescue ship that Salvini had already turned away from Italian ports, last year said populism was spreading across Europe “a bit like leprosy”.

The leprosy comment was taken to be directly aimed at Italy.

The French foreign ministry said: “The most recent interferences constitute an additional and unacceptable provocation. They violate the respect that is owed to democratic choices made by a nation which is a friend and an ally.

“To disagree is one thing, to exploit a relationship for electoral aims is another,” the ministry added.

Italy’s deputy prime ministers have sought electoral advantage from the yellow vest rioting. Picture credit: YouTube

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