Italy's Di Maio Meeting With 'Yellow Vests' is Provocation - French FM

Blanche Robertson
February 8, 2019

A senior official at the Italian Foreign Ministry, who declined to be named discussing a sensitive issue, said the French decision to recall the ambassador was completely unexpected. "Having disagreements is one thing but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims is another", the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

Italy's two deputy prime ministers, the far-right Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio of the populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement, have in recent months criticised the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on a host of inflammatory issues, from immigration to the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) anti-government demonstrations.

France is recalling its ambassador to Italy amid mounting tensions relating to yellow vest protesters.

Di Maio announced Tuesday that he had met near Paris with yellow vest leader Christophe Chalencon and candidates on a "yellow vest" list for European Parliament elections in May, led by Ingrid Levavasseur.

France has urged Italy to resume relations "worthy of our common destiny".

The yellow vest protests, hostile to the French government but especially to Macron, have upended French domestic politics for almost three months, campaigning against what they see as rising social inequality and a government largely indifferent to the concerns of ordinary people.

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During a visit to Egypt last month, Macron sought to shrug off the sparring, calling Salvini and Di Maio's comments "insignificant" and adding that he dealt only with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Following the meeting, he proclaimed that the "wind of change has crossed the Alps" and that "a new Europe is being born of the yellow vests".

In a statement on Wednesday (6 February), a French foreign ministry spokesman described the meeting with the yellow vests, as a provocation that "is unacceptable between neighbouring countries and partners at the heart of the EU".

Salvini poured fuel on the fire last month as well, saying in a Facebook video that "I hope the French will be able to free themselves of a awful president".

He called for the two countries to find a solution to problems that have caused tensions, including French border controls on the Italian border and demands by Rome for the extradition of far-left Italian fighters who live in France.

The French president is hoping to forge an alliance of pro-European centrists ahead of the bloc's parliamentary vote, against a wave of populist movements in several European countries.

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