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4 May, 2023 15:28

Italian FM cancels trip to France after ‘insults’ from Paris

France and Italy have been at loggerheads for years over immigration policy
Italian FM cancels trip to France after ‘insults’ from Paris

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani called off a planned trip to France on Thursday, accusing French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin of “insulting” his country by criticizing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s handling of illegal immigration.

“I will not go to Paris for the planned meeting” with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, Tajani tweeted on Thursday afternoon. “[Gerald Darmanin’s] insults against the [Italian] government and Italy are unacceptable. This is not the spirit with which common European challenges should be faced.”

Earlier on Thursday, Darmanin told France’s RMC radio that Meloni has been “unable to solve the migration problems on which she was elected,” and accused her of “lying” to voters.

Meloni rose to power last year promising to ramp up deportations and stop NGO-operated vessels from ferrying crowds of migrants to Italian ports. Despite her government cracking down on the activity of these ships – which she calls a “ferry service” – and fining their operators, the number of migrants arriving on Italian shores has almost quadrupled under her watch. 

More than 42,400 people have landed in Italy so far this year, compared to 11,220 in the same period in 2022. Amid this surge, the Italian government declared a six-month state of emergency in April, and began constructing new shelters for the arrivals.

France has grudgingly accepted thousands of migrants whose NGO ships were turned away from Italian ports. Colonna warned in November that there would be “consequences” if Meloni’s government continued to bar migrant ships from docking, adding that France was only taking the boats in “because of Italy’s stubborn refusal and lack of humanity.”

A month earlier, the dispute over the NGO ships led France to cancel a deal in which it agreed to take in roughly 3,500 migrants temporarily housed in Italy. 

The migration issue has divided the Italians and French since before Meloni came to power. In 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Italian Prime Minister Matteo Salvini of “cynicism and irresponsibility” when he refused to allow a French ship carrying migrants to dock. Months later, Salvini called Macron an “international embarrassment” after French policemen were spotted dropping apprehended migrants off in an Italian forest along the two countries’ shared border.

Shortly after Darmanin’s interview on Thursday, the French Foreign Ministry stated that it was still keen to work with Rome on migration issues, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported. As of Thursday afternoon, it is unclear whether Tajani and Colonna’s meeting will be rescheduled.