Saturday, 19 October, 2019

France RECALLS ambassador to Italy

Guillaume Guillaume
Patty Aguilar | 08 February, 2019, 01:23

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.

The rupture, the first withdrawal of a French envoy to Rome since World War Two, was announced by the foreign ministry.

Italy's two deputy prime ministers, the far-right Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio of the populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement, have in recent months criticised the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on a host of inflammatory issues, from immigration to the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) anti-government demonstrations.

Di Maio met this week in Paris with supporters of a yellow-vest group seeking to run in the European Parliament elections in May.

"Disagreeing is one thing, exploiting relations for electoral ends is another", the ministry added.

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

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

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The big question is whether the spat will have any longer-term repercussions and whether for Italy, it's worth the short-term gain of having got a rise out of France.

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

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".

On Wednesday, the ministry called Mr Di Maio's visit a "new provocation" that was "unacceptable between neighbouring countries and partners at the heart of the EU".

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

The "yellow vest" protests against fuel taxes began in rural and small-town France in late November, before ballooning into a wider revolt against Macron's policies and governing style. He said he hoped French voters would send Macron a message during the European elections by showing their support for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, with whom Salvini is allied in European politics. "We're not interested in controversies".

Economists warned today of the impact of Italy's recession on the rest of Europe as the country's growth forecasts were slashed to a five-year low.

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