France accused Italy yesterday of acting hysterically over immigration and failing to live up to its duties, triggering a renewed spat between the increasingly acrimonious European neighbors.
"I think that basically the Italian government has not been up to the task," spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye told France's BFM-TV, taking particular aim at Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has recently approved new anti-immigrant measures.
"Mr. Matteo Salvini's behavior has not been acceptable as far as I am concerned," she said, accusing him of creating a "hysterical" atmosphere over immigration. "This is a painful subject, a complex subject which the EU and France have previously been in solidarity with Italy over," she added.
Salvini, who heads the far-right League party, the country's largest political force, hit back. "My behavior regarding immigration is unacceptable? The French government should stop with these insults and open its ports [to migrants]," Salvini said in a statement. "Italians have already received too many [migrants] and spent too much. The next boats? They should head to Marseilles," he said, referring to the southern French port city.
The latest blow-up centers on moves by Salvini to make it even harder for nongovernmental rescue vessels from docking in Italy, which led to a Dutch-flagged ship carrying some 41 Africans being kept at sea for more than two weeks. The boat eventually disobeyed orders and docked, but the German captain now faces criminal charges.
Paris and Rome have repeatedly clashed over the past year on immigration as the Italian government looks to stop charity rescue ships from picking up would-be asylum seekers in the Mediterranean Sea and bringing them to Italy. The neighbors have often had turbulent relations, but the climate has seriously deteriorated since Western Europe's first populist government came to power in June in Italy, a founding member of the European Union. France briefly recalled its ambassador from Rome in February to protest against what it described as "repeated, baseless" attacks by Italian political leaders on Paris.
In another example of souring relations between the two countries, De Maio's populist 5-Star Movement (M5S) courted France's yellow vest anti-government movement and has repeatedly criticized Macron. The protesters drew support from the leading figures of the populist government in Rome as they urged the yellow vests to continue, in comments which risk ramping up Italy's war of words with Macron. "Yellow vests, do not weaken!" Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who heads the anti-establishment M5S, wrote on his party's blog. Taking Italy's prominent figures' overt support for the yellow vest protesters into account, the French government has decried foreign powers that give support for vandalism across the country.