France has summoned Italy’s ambassador after its deputy prime minister accused Paris of creating poverty in Africa and generating mass migration to Europe.
Italy’s deputy PM, Luigi Di Maio, blamed France over recent deaths at sea of migrants.
Speaking on Sunday, he said France is leading colonial-style policies in Africa that are “impoverishing” Africans and driving them to Europe’s shores.
Relations between the traditionally close allies have grown frosty since Italy’s far-right League and anti-establishment 5-Star parties came to power in 2018.
The newly formed coalition government has repeatedly criticised pro-EU French President Emmanuel Macron.
Much of the tension has been about migration as the two countries have been in dispute over France sending back migrants across Italy’s northern border.
A French diplomatic official said Italian ambassador Teresa Castaldo was questioned about the “unfriendly and baseless” comments.
The official, who was not authorised to be publicly named, said the remarks run counter to the “Franco-Italian partnership” and “the sense of European community”.
Mr Di Maio accused Mr Macron of doing nothing to help handle the hundreds of thousands of mainly African migrants who have reached Italy from Libya in recent years.
Downplaying the tensions on Monday, Mr Di Maio told journalists: “I don’t think it’s a diplomatic case.”
But he insisted that “it’s true, France is one of those countries” whose actions in Africa contribute to migrants leaving their homelands on dangerous journeys.
On Tuesday, his fellow deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, backed his comments, saying France was looking to extract wealth from Africa rather than helping countries develop their own economies.
He said that France was not looking to bring calm to violence-ravaged Libya because its energy interests there rivalled those of Italy.
“In Libya, France has no interest in stabilising the situation, probably because it has oil interests that are opposed to those of Italy,” Mr Salvini told Canale 5 TV station.
He added that Italy “won’t take any lessons on humanity from Macron”.
He said: “France has no reason to get upset because it pushed away tens of thousands of migrants [at the French border], abandoning them there as though they were beasts.”
A French diplomatic source said it was not the first time Mr Salvini had made such comments and that it was probably because he felt he had been upstaged by Mr Di Maio.
The source added that the accusation was baseless, reiterating that French efforts in Libya were aimed at stabilising the country, preventing the spread of terrorism and curbing the migration flows.
The tensions have become more apparent ahead of the European parliamentary elections in May, with both Mr Di Maio and Mr Salvini eager to show they have broken with the consensual politics of centre-left and centre-right parties.
(c) Sky News 2019: France summons Italy over ‘baseless’ Africa remarks on migration