France is recalling its ambassador to Italy amid Yellow Vest and migration crisis tensions.
Italy’s deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio of the populist Five Star Movement met representatives of the French gilets jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement and expressed his support.
In a statement after the meeting, the Five Star Movement said: “We have a lot of common positions and values, such as the defence of citizens, social rights, direct democracy and environment.”
The meeting was described by France’s foreign ministry as undermining relations between the two European neighbours. “This new provocation is not acceptable between neighbouring countries and partners in the European Union”, they said.
Despite the Yellow Vests planning to stand a list of candidates in the forthcoming EU elections (which has caused disagreements within the movement itself, since it could backfire and aid Emmanuel Macron’s neo-liberal party at the elections), the Italian deputy prime minister urged French voters to back Marine Le Pen instead. The French foreign ministry criticised that intervention as well, saying: “To have disagreements is one thing, to exploit the relationship for electoral purposes is another.”
In another development, Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, of the anti-immigration Lega, exchanged words with France over French border guards pushing illegal immigrants back into Italy. While an Italian newspaper said that since his recent agreement with Angela Merkel, Macron is now “playing a game against Italy.”
The row comes as the ailing eurozone continues to perform poorly economically. Italy’s budget showdown with the EU, the Yellow Vest protests in France and the impact of a global trade war between the US, the EU and China have depressed economic growth. While German business confidence and activity has slumped with private sector activity all but stagnated across the eurozone (which includes France and Italy) at the start of 2019.
If President Trump levies tariffs on car imports from the EU as a whole later this month, it could push an already weakened eurozone into recession as the UK prepares to leave the EU at the end of March.
Then a war of words could become a permanent fixture, not just between France and Italy, but across the EU as a whole.