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

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.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.