Diplomatic crisis between Paris and Rome deepens

7 mins read
Diplomatic crisis between Paris and Rome deepens

The Meloni government refuses to accept migrants stranded at sea.

Italian media highlighted France‘s ‘slap in the face’ to the government of Giorgia Meloni, while in a departure from the usual pattern in relations between European partners, French official statements described Italy’s refusal to accept migrants stranded at sea as ‘below the level of human duty’.

There is growing concern in European circles that the diplomatic crisis between Paris and Rome could worsen and affect the unity of positions on key issues within the European Union (EU).

The rescue ship Ocean Viking docked at the French military port of Toulon yesterday afternoon. Migrants who had been on board for three weeks were disembarked here. Meanwhile, European officials have intensified contacts and efforts to de-escalate the heated crisis between France and Italy and prevent it from exploding at the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels next Monday.

Diplomatic observers in the European capital fear that the crisis could deepen to the level that erupted between the two sides in 2019 under Italy’s populist government. France recalled its ambassador to Rome for the first time since World War II amid the tensions.

French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin announced that Paris had decided to accept the ship carrying 234 migrants, including 57 children, with exceptional status and at the request of President Emmanuel Macron, describing Italy’s behavior as contrary to international law and human solidarity. Darmanin said the new government in Italy was violating commitments made weeks before it took office.

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On Friday, the Italian Prime Minister emphasized that ‘there had been a misunderstanding with France and that France’s reaction was unnecessary’. The French minister announced that his country had decided to suspend its plan to distribute the migrants who have been landed in Italian ports in recent months, of which France was scheduled to take 3,500 under the European Solidarity Mechanism.

Darmanin asked Germany and the other European countries involved in this mechanism to follow France’s lead and not accept migrants currently living in Italy. However, Paris went further and announced yesterday morning that 500 additional police forces had been sent to strengthen surveillance along the land border with Italy. “Paris will learn all the lessons from Italy’s behavior with regard to other aspects of the bilateral relationship between the two countries,” the Interior Minister said at the time.

Macron, who was the first European leader to meet Meloni in Rome shortly after taking office, noted that the Italian Prime Minister had acted wrongly and caused a serious crisis between the two countries. With this escalation, Macron is trying to prevent Meloni from winning a victory in this first tension between the two sides and to send a message that Italy’s behavior will have repercussions at the French and European level.

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On the other hand, Meloni took the opportunity to boast on the local stage that he had forced France to accept the rescue ship in its ports. He insisted that Italy is not obliged to accept all migrants rescued by aid ships in the Mediterranean and that other European countries should also assume their responsibilities and blocked the ship from entering Italian ports.

However, France’s problem is not only related to bilateral relations with Italy, but also to the political debate at the local level over the immigration law. The immigration law is one of the main pillars used by the far right in France’s recent elections to widen the circle of popularity, which has reached record highs.

“By accepting for the first time the landing of migrants on a rescue ship in a French port, Emmanuel Macron is sending a message of tragic negligence that prevents his claims that he wants to end mass and chaotic migration from being believed,” Marine Le Pen, former leader of the National Union Party (RN), said yesterday.

As for Italy’s position, this allows Meloni to rule out his ally in the government and rival in the leadership of the right-wing front, Matteo Salvini. Salvini was looking for such an opportunity to try to regain the popularity he had recently lost to the new prime minister.

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Although Meloni refused to respond to Salvini’s request for the Interior Ministry, Salvini had insisted on the appointment of Matteo Piantedosi, nicknamed ‘the wolf’, who is close to him, as Interior Minister. It is likely that Salvini is running the Italian government’s immigration policy.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani tried to defuse tensions by creating a space for dialogue between the two sides, saying that ‘such a reaction by France is exaggerated between two friendly countries governed by understanding’. The leader of the opposition Democratic Party and former Prime Minister Enrico Letta commented:

“The mistakes made by Giorgia Meloni in the last two weeks are not only dangerous, but also tragic and not in the national interest, especially with regard to Italy’s relations with a historic and traditional ally like France.”

European Commission officials fear that this crisis will isolate and weaken the new Italian government within the EU, and will push it away from a position where major decisions are being taken at a time when the solidarity and support of European partners is desperately needed.

 

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