News Analysis: High-profile Italy-France spats a prelude to European elections

Source: Xinhua| 2019-01-23 05:32:33|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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ROME, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- The governments of Italy and France are locked in a high-profile diplomatic battle, which is unlikely to completely resolve itself until voters in both countries elect their representatives to the European Parliament, analysts said.

The two countries, both among the six founding members of the bloc that became the European Union, have historical ties dating back centuries.

But in recent months, they have clashed over a wide array of issues, ranging from what each government should do over migrants to whether an Italian ship builder could take administrative control over a major French port. Leaders have sparred over how to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Renaissance polymath Leonardo Da Vinci and over the disposition of a high-speed rail line that would link the cities of Turin and Lyon.

"There have been occasional spats between Italy and France in the past, but the relationship took a downward trend after the war in Libya in 2011," Raffaele Marchetti, an international relations professor and director of the research unit on political risk analysis at Rome's LUISS University, told Xinhua. "Since then, other factors have made the tension much more acute."

Marchetti said the more recent factors include political differences between the government of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and French President Emmanuel Macron, economic problems in both countries, and now the European Parliament elections set to take place on May 26.

"In both countries, there is the belief that parties controlling the government will benefit from being seen as standing up to the other country," Marchetti said. Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo "Salvini is very unpopular in France and so Macron gains from opposing him, while Salvini benefits from attacking France as a proxy for attacking the European Union."

Salvini is the head of the Eurosceptic League, which pollsters say is now the largest political party in Italy. The League, whose anti-European stances have dramatically increased its support base in the last two years, is one of two parties supporting the Conte government, along with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

In the latest moves, Salvini and Luigi Di Maio, the other deputy prime minister and head of the Five Star Movement, have attacked Macron over Libya. Libya is the starting point for ships transporting thousands of migrants setting off for Europe, a major point of contention between the two countries.

Additionally, Salvini accused France of stoking disorder in the north African nation because Italy depends on Libya for energy, while Di Maio said France "never stopped colonizing" the continent. France summoned the Italian ambassador in Paris to protest against the remarks -- a rare move.

Salvini responded by calling on French voters to turn against Macron's party in the May vote. "I hope the French will get rid of a terrible president," Salvini said on social media.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Tuesday, Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi characterized the barbs between Italy and France as "part of the debate that will take us to the European elections." The minister said, "We are accustomed to hard-fought debate before elections within countries." But this kind of international sparring is new, Milanesi said.

Franco Pavoncello, a political scientist and president of John Cabot University, predicted that the playing field would change in the wake of the elections.

"Today everything is focusing on the elections and policies are focused on helping parties do better," Pavoncello told Xinhua. "After the election, it will be a new page. The governments will have to focus on budgetary issues and other major policy areas. But that won't win them votes now; they clearly think this kind of fighting will do it."