France Recalls Ambassador to Italy Amid Growing Strains
France on Thursday recalled its ambassador from Italy, as tensions between the two countries reached new heights. Since the formation of a populist coalition government in Italy last year, the leaders of the two parties in the coalition, Matteo Salvini of the Northern League and Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement, have been engaging in a “war of words” with French President Emmanuel Macron. At the core of the verbal attacks lie fundamental differences in political ideology and disagreement over immigration policy and the future of Europe.
A meeting in France last week between Luigi Di Maio and leaders of the Yellow Vest movement, a largely anti-Macron campaign for economic reform, was the last straw.
“This is without precedent since 1940, when Mussolini declared war,” Marc Lazar, a specialist in Franco-Italian relations told The New York Times, in reference to the ambassador removal. According to the Washington Post, it signals a move away from the “typically congenial politics of postwar Western Europe.”
That the tensions should escalate now is no coincidence. European elections are taking place in May and Di Maio and Salvini, who are running against each other, are attempting to advance their electoral agenda by pitting themselves against President Macron.
Their meddling with domestic issues in France serves as a tactic to divert Italians’ attention from problems at home, like the recession or migration issues, and strengthen support from voters. It is also an attempt on their part to find potential allies, as Europe’s future leadership hangs between populist, anti-establishment forces, and pro-European integration forces.
The likelihood of an improvement in relations between the two countries seems dire, especially with the European elections in sight.