The Irish Times view on Franco-Italian tensions: bad neighbours
Relations between Paris and Rome are at breaking point
Italian deputy premier and labour and industry minister Luigi Di Maio with joint deputy premier and interior minister Matteo Salvini, at a commemoration marking the second anniversary of the Rigopiano Hotel avalanche disaster that claimed 29 lives, in Rigopiano, in the Abruzzo region. Photograph: Claudio Lattanzio/EPA
Tensions between France and Italy predate the current administrations in Paris and Rome. Italians resented France’s intervention in Libya, a former Italian colony still regarded by some Italians as part of their zone of influence. More recently, Italy felt that Paris, for all its fine words about solidarity and tolerance, did little to help during the 2015-16 migrant crisis.
Italy has even reneged on plans to lend the Louvre two Leonardo da Vinci paintings. Paris has largely resisted the bait
But while the current strains have not appeared from nowhere, they have now reached breaking point. Criticism of France has been a recurring theme from the populist coalition that came to power in Italy last year. In Emmanuel Macron, Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio, Italy’s joint deputy prime ministers, see the personification of the cosmopolitan European elite they’re out to smash. The French president, for his part, has positioned himself as a bulwark against the ethno-nationalist “leprosy” he believes the rise of Salvini’s Lega represents.
All month, trans-Alpine insults have been flying. Di Maio has blamed French neo-colonialism in Africa for wrecking local economies and forcing migrants to make the journey north. Di Maio has openly called on French voters to snub Macron’s party in the forthcoming European Parliament elections, encouraging them to “liberate themselves from a very bad president”, and has urged the gilets jaunes to “hang in there”. Italy has even reneged on plans to lend the Louvre two Leonardo da Vinci paintings. Paris has largely resisted the bait – it will not join a “competition to be the most stupid”, said Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau – but the foreign ministry has summoned Italy’s ambassador for a dressing down.
Expect the Italian populists’ taunting of Macron to continue. The contest of ideas between Paris and Rome – one liberal, pro-European and progressive; the other nationalist and euro-sceptic – reflects a broader continental battle that will frame the European elections in May. The problem is that recriminations will linger long after the elections, leaving relations between two close neighbours stalled for as long as both incumbent governments remain in office.