France and Italy: A Deeper Rift Over Africa Migrants Crisis

Alao Abiodun
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Italy’s Deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio has blamed France for forcing migrants to make the strenuous journey from Africa to Europe after close to 170 people drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean sea.

According to News report, One boat carrying 117 people sank off the coast of Libya while a second, believed to be carrying 53 people, went down in the western Mediterranean.

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, Di Maio said he saw “hypocrisy” from Europe, Mr Di Maio, head of the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) which makes up half of the ruling coalition in Rome, expressed his “condolences to the victims”.

He added: “There are countries, like France, which in Africa continue to have de facto colonies, with the franc as currency, ‘money’ that it is used to finance its public debt weakening the economies of those countries where migrants come from. The place for Africans is Africa, not the bottom of the sea.”

Mr Di Maio had already sparked annoyance 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 autumn accused France of dumping underage migrants over the border without authorisation.

“For several months, France has been the subject of repeated accusations, unfounded attacks and outrageous declarations,” Ms 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.”

Luigi Di Maio is an Italian politician serving as Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and Minister of Economic Development, Labour and Social Policies since 1 June 2018. He previously served as Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies in the XVII Italian legislature. He is the leader of the Five Star Movement, an anti-establishment party founded by Beppe Grillo.

The Incendiary Comments

The allegations marked the latest diplomatic spat between the two countries, following last year’s quarrel over migration, and, specifically the Aquarius migrant rescue ship.

Despite France’s reaction, Di Maio stood by his comments in a statement to the press on Monday, adding that he believed France had prevented the economic development of 14 African states.

He specifically referred to the CFA franc, the umbrella term for two France-backed currencies used in 14 states across west and central Africa.

“I think that France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts,” he said in a statement broadcast live to Facebook.

Speaking in Italy’s Abruzzo region, Di Maio said he believed France would drop in the rankings of the world’s largest economies had it not been for “what it is doing in Africa.” “If we have people who are leaving Africa now it’s because some European countries, and France in particular, have never stopped colonising Africa,” he said.

“If France didn’t have its African colonies, because that’s what they should be called, it would be the 15th largest world economy. Instead it’s among the first, exactly because of what it is doing in Africa.”

France and Italy Relationship

Historically the strong relations between France and Italy have significantly reduced following the formation of a government coalition in Italy comprising the Five Star Movement and the League in June 2018.

Points of contention between the countries have included immigration, budgetary constraints, the Second Libyan Civil War, the CFA Franc, and Italian support for opposition movements in France.

In June 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Italy of “cynicism and irresponsibility” for turning away the Aquarius Dignitus migrant rescue ship.

The Italian government summoned the French ambassador in response, with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte describing Macron’s remarks as “hypocritical”.

Meanwhile, In September 2018, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini condemned France’s foreign policy in Libya, including its advocacy for the 2011 military intervention in Libya and actions during the Second Libyan Civil War, accusing France of “putting at risk the security of North Africa and, as a result, of Europe as a whole” for “economic motives and selfish national interest”.

France and Italy are in a diplomatic crisis, provoked by a recent meeting between Italy’s deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, and representatives of the French Gilets Jaunes protest movement.

Di Maio has expressed his support for the Gilets Jaunes as they prepare to stand candidates in the European Parliament elections this year. This has caused so much trouble for the French president, Emmanuel Macron, that the French government has pulled its ambassador out of Rome, accusing the Italian government of making verbal attacks “without precedent since World War II”.

Di Maio’s gesture was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Tensions between the two governments – over corporate takeovers, policy towards Libya, and an exhibition Leonardo Da Vinci’s works – have been mounting since a new populist “government of change” came to power in Italy last June. This latest conflict has soured relations to an unprecedented point. It’s difficult to see how they can improve in the near term.

France’s Macron Slams Italian Migrant Policy

French President Emmanuel Macron affirmed that Italy is in crisis with the rest of the EU, after several other European countries stepped in to take in migrants rescued at sea who were refused entry at Italian ports.

“There’s a political crisis between Italy and the rest of Europe,” Macron said during the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“Italy has decided not to respect the rules of international law, and maritime and humanitarian law in particular.”

The French president was speaking after France, Germany, Spain and Portugal agreed to host 58 people who were picked up in the Mediterranean last week by the NGO ship Aquarius, which remained at sea for several days in search of a friendly port.

It was the latest standoff between a rescue ship and Italy’s coalition government, which declared Italian ports closed to all ships carrying migrants –  even Italian coast guard boats – after it took power in June.

In the latest crisis Italy, Malta and Tunisia refused the Aquarius harbour, and Italian authorities instructed it to hand the migrants over to the Libyan coastguard. The two organizations that operate the Aquarius, SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders, refused on the grounds that conditions in Libya are unsafe.

‘Yellow vests’ Caused diplomatic crisis between France and Italy

A meeting between the French ‘yellow vests’ and the Italian deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, has lit a fuse between Paris and Rome. The relationship between the two countries has deteriorated in recent months.

While the list of candidates from the “yellow vests” for the European elections is still being awaited, some of the movement’s representatives met Di Maio, who is also labour minister, on 5 February.

The leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) made this unexpected meeting public on Twitter, referring to a meeting with candidates from the “Ralliement d’initiative citoyenne” (RIC) list. Only a small number of candidates have so far been announced of the 79 required to stand in the May 2019 European elections.

“Today, with @ale-dibattista, we have made a visit to France and met the leader of the ‘yellow vests,’ Cristophe (sic) Chalençon and the candidates of Ingrid Levavasseur’s list for the European elections. The wind of change has crossed the Alps,” Di Maio tweeted.

Even so, several members of the RIC participated in the meeting with the Italian minister, including Christophe Chalençon, one of the contested media figures of the ‘yellow vest’ movement. The meeting, which was made official by the Italians, comes in addition to support Di Maio has already expressed for the “yellow vests” since the beginning of January.

The minister, whose party formed an alliance with the far-right to form the Italian government, compared the ‘yellow vests’ to the Italian Five Star Movement. At the same time, he criticised the French government, accusing it of pursuing policies “which are not only damaging to the French people but also to Europe.”


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