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France distances itself from Italy over ‘coloniser’ remarks

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has called French leader Emmanuel Macron a "terrible president" in recent days, appears at a rally for his party the League in Rome, 8 December 2018.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has called French leader Emmanuel Macron a "terrible president" in recent days, appears at a rally for his party the League in Rome, 8 December 2018. AFP/Filippo Monteforte

France’s government said on Wednesday it would not enter into a “stupidity contest” with Italy following remarks by top officials that have angered Paris, but added it would be difficult for the two countries to work together for the time being.

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“Our intention is not to have a stupidity contest” with Italy’s populist government, France’s Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau said Wednesday.

Loiseau said the French government would not wage a war of words or retaliate against Rome, adding working meetings and visits between the two countries were mostly out of the question for the time being.

“We want to continue to be able to work together,” Loiseau said. “Does that mean the current environment permits ministerial visits as if nothing has happened? I will go to Italy once things have settled down.”

Loiseau’s remarks follow verbal attacks against French Presdient Emmanuel Macron from officials in Italy’s government in recent days.

On Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio accused Paris of fuelling the flow of migrants to Europe by continuing to “colonise” Africa.

“The EU should sanction France and all countries like France that impoverish Africa and make these people leave,” Di Maio said, adding, “if people are leaving today it’s because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonising dozens of African countries.”

The remarks led France to summon Italy’s ambassador in protest on Monday.

The same day, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said he hoped French voters would soon free themselves from Macron’s administration.

“I feel close, with all my heart, to the French people, the millions of men and women who live in France under a terrible government and terrible president,” Salvini said in a Facebook video.

Di Maio and Salvini have also voiced support for the Yellow Vest protesters challenging Macron’s policies and style of governing.

In addition to both being deputy prime ministers, Di Maio and Salvini are the respective leaders of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League parties, which have governed Italy in a coalition since last June, and both of which want to make gains in European elections in May.

Macron targeted the populist government as he sought to form a pro-Europe alliance of parties ahead of those elections, and said last year that populists including Salvini were right to see him as their “main opponent”.

Macron has also denounced Italy’s hard-line stance on refusing migrants.

But more recently, French officials have largely refused to respond to provocative statements out of Italy.

“Do (such comments) help the Italian people or contribute to their well-being? I don’t think so,” Loiseau said. “Have they had any influence on the political situation in France? I don’t think that’s the case either.”

(with AFP)

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