France takes dig at Italy’s recession

10 February, 2019 12:00 AM printer

PARIS: The French government took a dig at Italy's populist leaders and the country's economic problems on Friday, while defending its decision to recall its ambassador to Rome.

Paris summoned back its ambassador in Rome for consultations on Thursday for the first time since World War II, a symbolic move that underlined the depths of ill-will between the two capitals, reports AFP.

"It's not a permanent recall, but it was important to make a statement because Italy is a historic ally and is also a founding member of the European Union," government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told Europe 1 radio.

Paris was left incensed on Tuesday when Italian deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio held a surprise meeting with the leaders of "yellow vest" protesters in France who have called for President Emmanuel Macron to resign.

"Good behaviour, the most basic courtesy would be to notify the government" about the meetings, Griveaux said.

France's Europe affairs minister, Nathalie Loiseau, said the decision to recall France's ambassador "isn't about being dramatic. It's about saying 'playtime is over'."

Griveaux also dismissed suggestions that Paris was partly to blame for the current crisis in relations because of Macron's past criticisms of Di Maio and far-right leader Matteo Salvini.

The Italian leaders, who formed a eurosceptic coalition government last June, have mounted a series of increasingly personal attacks on Macron, with Salvini calling him a "terrible president" last month.

"If they (Italy's leaders) felt targeted, that's their problem. Snide remarks from Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini haven't stopped Italy falling into recession ... we don't make snide remarks," Griveaux said.

The Italian economy contracted in the fourth quarter of 2018 because of a slowdown in exports, plunging the eurozone's third-largest economy into a technical recession and increasing the government's budgetary problems.

Griveaux also renewed a controversial comparison made by Macron last June between nationalism and leprosy, which angered Salvini at the time.

"What is of interest to me is that people in Europe do better and if we can beat back the nationalist leprosy, populism, mistrust of Europe," the government spokesman added.