France recalls Italy envoy as relations plumb new depths

France recalled its ambassador to Rome after a series of personal criticisms of President Emmanuel Macron by Italy’s two deputy prime ministers, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini. (AFP)
Updated 07 February 2019

France recalls Italy envoy as relations plumb new depths

  • Di Maio and Salvini, who formed a populist coalition government last year, have repeatedly criticized Macron, who has in turn targeted their euroskeptic movements
  • The latest spat erupted Tuesday after Di Maio, who heads the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, said he met French yellow vest anti-government protesters

PARIS: France took the exceptional step of recalling its envoy to Rome on Thursday to protest a series of attacks from the Italian government which it described as “unprecedented” since World War II.
France’s foreign ministry recalled its ambassador to Rome for consultations after a series of increasingly personal criticisms of President Emmanuel Macron by Italy’s two deputy prime ministers, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini.
“For several months France has been the subject of repeated accusations, unfounded attacks and outlandish claims,” a ministry statement said. “This is unprecedented since the end of the war.”
In 1940, Italy under leader Benito Mussolini invaded France, occupying part of the southeast, but they have been allies since and are founding members of the European Union.
It is the first time since the war that France has recalled its ambassador.
Di Maio and Salvini, who formed a populist coalition government last year, have repeatedly criticized Macron, who has in turn targeted their euroskeptic movements ahead of high-stake European Parliament elections in May.
The latest spat erupted Tuesday after Di Maio, who heads the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, said he met French “yellow vest” anti-government protesters outside Paris.
Di Maio said the aim of the meeting was to prepare a common front for the European Parliament elections, boasting on Twitter that “the wind of change has crossed the Alps.”
But Paris denounced the matter as “an additional and unacceptable provocation.”
Speaking to AFP, a French official described the recall as a diplomatic message warning Italy to “stop playing with Franco-Italian friendship.”
“The measure is exceptional, but it’s not designed to worsen or escalate” the situation.
The escalating war of words began when the Five Star Movement and Salvini’s far-right League parties won the elections last summer and formed a coalition government.
When the populist government then began preventing rescue boats with migrants on board from docking at Italian ports, Macron blasted its “cynicism and irresponsibility,” comparing the rise of far-right nationalism to leprosy.
It has since spiralled into a string of tit-for-tat exchanges, leading to this week’s latest spat.
“We don’t want to row with anyone,” Salvini said on Thursday, calling for solutions to problematic issues such as French border controls on the Italian frontier and Rome’s demands for the extradition of far-left Italian activists living in France.
Both Salvini and Di Maio also issued statements saying they were available to talk to Macron and the French government.
Last month, Paris summoned Italy’s ambassador to protest Di Maio’s accusation that France was encouraging immigration to Europe “because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonizing dozens of African countries.”
And Di Maio also denounced the French government for protecting the elite and the privileged, saying “a new Europe is being born of the ‘yellow vests’, of movements, of direct democracy.”
Salvini also poured fuel on the fire last month with a Facebook video in which he said: “I hope the French will be able to free themselves of a terrible president.”
“The opportunity will come on May 26 when finally the French people will be able to take back control of their future, destiny, (and) pride, which are poorly represented by a character like Macron,” he said, referring to the date of the European Parliament elections.
Sebastien Maillard, who heads the Jacques Delors thinktank in Paris, suggested there was little reason for the Italians to call off the fight.
“I don’t quite see what di Maio and Salvini could gain by calling off the battle which serves their domestic political goals,” he said.


UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.