PARIS, Feb 7: France is recalling its ambassador to Italy amid mounting tensions after Italy’s deputy prime minister met with French yellow vest protesters and a string of critical Italian comments toward French President Emmanuel Macron’s government.
French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a statement Thursday that the ambassador is being brought back for “consultations,” and urged Italy to return to friendly relations worthy of “our common destiny.”
France’s Foreign Ministry called that an “unacceptable” interference in French democracy, and unprecedented since the two neighbors joined together after World War II to help create the European Union.
“The campaign for the European elections cannot justify the lack of respect for each people or for their democracy,” von der Muhll said.
Italy’s Luigi Di Maio met this week with supporters of a yellow vest group seeking to run in the European Parliament elections in May. Di Maio has said his populist movement is ready to help France’s anti-government protesters and has accused France of fueling Europe’s migrant crisis.
Di Maio’s meeting with yellow vest activists came after Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called Macron “a terrible president” in January. He said he hoped French voters would send Macron a message during the European elections by showing their support for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, with whom Salvini is allied in European politics.
Di Maio had already sparked annoyance in January when he accused France of leading colonial-style policies in Africa, prompting the French Foreign Ministry to summon the Italian ambassador. And the Italian government last fall accused France of dumping underage migrants over the border without authorization.
“For several months, France has been the subject of repeated accusations, unfounded attacks and outrageous declarations,” von der Muhll said. “This is unprecedented since the end of (World War II). To have disagreements is one thing, to exploit the relationship for electoral purposes is another.”
After meeting with members of the Citizens’ Initiative Rally group of yellow vests on Tuesday, Di Maio boasted on Twitter that “the wind of change has crossed the Alps.”