France: Italy ambassador recall is an important warning

France kept up pressure on Italy Friday amid their biggest diplomatic spat since World War II, as business leaders from both countries appealed to their leaders to restore calm. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 February 2019
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France: Italy ambassador recall is an important warning

  • France and Italy are founding members of the European Union, born from the ashes of WWII
  • France's government spokesman said the recall of its ambassador to Italy sends an important signal to its ally not to meddle in internal French affairs

PARIS: France kept up pressure on Italy Friday amid their biggest diplomatic spat since World War II, as business leaders from both countries appealed to their leaders to restore calm.
France's government spokesman said the recall of its ambassador to Italy is temporary, but sends an important signal to its historical ally not to meddle in internal French affairs.
France and Italy are founding members of the European Union, born from the ashes of WWII, and their unusual dispute is rippling around the continent at a time of growing tensions between nationalist and pro-EU forces.
French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Friday on Europe-1 radio that this week's recall of French Ambassador Christian Masset was prompted by months of "unfounded attacks" from Italian government members Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, who have criticized President Emmanuel Macron's economic and migration policies.
But the main trigger for the crisis appeared to be Di Maio's meeting in a Paris suburb this week with members of the yellow vest movement seeking seats in the European Parliament.
Griveaux said the visit violated "the most elementary diplomacy" because it was unannounced. Referring to Italy's populist leaders, he criticized a "nationalist leprosy" eating away at Europe's unity and said European Union members should "behave better toward partners."
A participant in the meeting, French activist Marc Doyer, told The Associated Press that it was initiated by Di Maio's populist 5-Star movement and aimed at sharing advice on how to build a "citizens' movement."
He said it provided useful technical and other guidance to potential yellow vest candidates and their supporters, and said the diplomat spat was over-reaction.
"It's a political game by certain people," he said. "Free movement exists in Europe, and the meeting didn't cost the French taxpayer anything."
Italy's foreign minister struck a conciliatory tone after the ambassador recall Thursday — but Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said the 5-Star movement upped its offer of support for France's yellow vest movement.
During a visit to Genoa, Toninelli mentioned free use of the 5-Star's online portal, which allows registered party members to vote on policy decisions and candidates.
"If useful we can offer them a hand and do political activities in service of the French people," Toninelli said, according to the ANSA news agency.
The standoff was clearly sending jitters through the business world, given the two countries are top trading partners and powerhouses of the EU economy.
Italian business lobby Cofindustria and its French counterpart Medef wrote to their respective leaders calling for "constructive dialogue" to resolve the dispute, which they warned was no longer a mere bilateral issue within Europe but could threaten Europe's standing in the rest of the world.
"It's necessary that the two historic protagonists of the process of integration don't split, but reconfirm their elements of unity," the presidents of the two groups wrote Premier Giuseppe Conte and Macron. "Europe is an economic giant and we have to work to make it become a political giant as well."
The two leaders — Vincenzo Boccia of Confindustria and Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux of Medef — confirmed plans for a joint meeting later this month in Paris.
French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told the AP that the ambassador recall "is an unprecedented gesture toward a European state that is aimed at making clear that there are things that are not done between neighboring countries, friends and partners within the European Union."


Former US VP Biden announces 2020 run for White House

Updated 25 April 2019
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Former US VP Biden announces 2020 run for White House

  • Biden joins an already crowded list of presidential candidates running from the Democratic party
  • He served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president

WASHINGTON: Former US Vice President Joe Biden announced Thursday he is entering the 2020 White House race, joining an already crowded list of candidates running on the Democratic Party platform.
In a tweet accompanied by a three-and-a-half minute video, Biden said he couldn’t stand idly by while US President Donald Trump “fundamentally altered the character of this nation.”
“The core values of this nation... our standing in the world... our very democracy... everything that has made America — America — is at stake,” he wrote in the post.
“That’s why today I’m announcing my candidacy for President of the United States.”
Even before his official announcement, Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president, led most surveys of Democratic voters.
The RealClearPolitics poll aggregate puts him as favorite with 29.3 percent support, followed by independent Senator Bernie Sanders at 23 percent.