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Macron calls for France-Italy ties to be mended

Emmanuel Macron speaking during a visit by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to Paris,15 June 2018.
Emmanuel Macron speaking during a visit by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to Paris,15 June 2018. Ludovic Marin/Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron has launched a call for reconciliation with Italy following a diplomatic spat between the neighbours that saw Paris briefly recall its ambassador. Relations between the two countries have soured due to repeated clashes between centrist Macron and Italy's populist coalition government.

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"There has been intemperate talk. There have been various twists and turns and I think we owe it to our people, to our history and to Europe, to get past that," Macron said Sunday on the Italian television channel RAI.

France recalled its ambassador Christian Masset on 7 February, after Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, met with members of the Yellow Vest protest movement and declared his support for a list of candidates to run in European parliament elections in May.

France also protested critical comments made by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also serving as Deputy Prime Minister, against Macron.

It was first withdrawal of a French envoy to Rome since World War Two.

However, in the spirit of reconciliation, Macron said in his interview that he would host his Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella at Amboise, central France, on 2 May to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci "with French and Italian youth".

"We will talk about the future and Europe"

The two presidents intend to go "beyond the misunderstandings that can sometimes arise in political or economic life and which are, for me, secondary," Macron said, without mentioning Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte or other Italian leaders.

With the exception of a question about the planned Lyon-Turin rail link, which he stressed the importance of, Macron did not mention other divisive subjects such as Italian populist leaders' support of the "yellow vest" protestors in France or the merger between French shipbuilder Chantiers de l'Atlantique (formerly STX France) and Italy's Fincantieri.

However, Macron took the opportunity to speak at length about his love of Italy and his travels.

"There are so many French people who love Italy and Italians who love France and the French. But suddenly, we almost forgot that we have to keep on learning to understand each other," Macron said.

In Italy, the interview provoked controversy even before its release as Macron chose to be interviewed by Fabio Fazio, a nemesis of Italy's deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and nationalists who consider him an archetypal "trendy" journalist.

During his interview, the French president also quoted writer Roberto Saviano, one of Salvini's most virulent critics, and lambasted "the simplification of the message of some nationalists".

"No country, no one in Europe, nor Italy, nor France, will solve its own problems by opposing other European countries and by withdrawing back to the national level," he insisted.

Macron is gearing up for the European elections in May.

Later this week, an editorial message written by Macron will be published in newspapers across the 28 members of the bloc.

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