A massive row is brewing up and threatening the EU project between France and Italy in what appears at first glance to be over immigration but is also about Macron’s anger at Giorgia Meloni’s attempt to make Italy a bigger geopolitical player beyond what the Elysee is achieving on the international stage.
Italy’s foreign minister cancelled a trip to Paris May 4th after a French minister criticised Rome’s migration policy, in a fresh spat over the contentious issue between the two nations.
Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani slammed Darmanin’s “unacceptable” remarks and cancelled a planned trip to Paris.
“This is not the spirit in which common European challenges should be faced”, he said.
Paris later sought to ease the tensions, saying it hoped that Tajani’s meeting with French counterpart Catherine Colonna scheduled for the evening of the same day could be rescheduled “soon”.
“I told him the relationship between Italy and France is based on reciprocal respect,” she wrote.
The French foreign ministry said that the government “wishes to work with Italy to meet the common challenge of rapidly rising migrant flows” and urged “calm dialogue”.
But in a television interview Tajani said Darmanin’s remarks were “a stab in the back” and he was still waiting for him to “apologize to the prime minister, the government, and Italy”.
The centrist French government under President Emmanuel Macron has clashed repeatedly with Italian cabinets in recent years over migration. In reality, relations between Meloni and Macron have never been good as the French premier has always treated her like an Italian version of Marine Le Pen and she launched a scathing attack on the french via a youtube video before she was even elected, which claimed that the French were imposing colonial type conditions on their former colonies in Africa which Macron saw as an attack on him personally. The claims, like many of the recent more sensational statements which her government dishes out, like Russia being responsible for the more recent spike in migrant flows from Libya and Tunisia, are exaggerated in most cases and could be called fake news – which is part of what the French are arguing.
The most recent spike in tensions came last November when Meloni, whose far-right Brothers of Italy party won September elections, refused to allow a charity ship carrying 230 migrants to dock in Italy.
The Ocean Viking ship was eventually allowed to dock in France, but Paris denounced Rome’s “unacceptable” behaviour and suspended plans to receive 3,500 migrants from Italy.
At the time, Meloni denounced France’s reaction as “aggressive” and “unjustified”.
Relations have since improved, with Macron and Meloni meeting in Brussels in March for talks.
But migration remains a live issue for Meloni’s government, the most right-wing in Rome since World War II, which took office in October vowing to stop boat landings which have led Meloni to use a number of tactics with the EU to step up its role to find a solution – one of which is to get Tunisia’s mercurial president Kasai Saied to accept the terms of an IMF bail out.
Since the beginning of the year, there has been a surge in the numbers of migrants arriving on Italy’s shores, mostly from North Africa.
More than 42,000 people have arrived since January 1, according to the Italian interior ministry — almost four times the number in the same period in 2022.
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced last month the mobilisation of 150 extra police officers to deal with “increased migration pressure on the Italian border”.