The French interior minister’s comments on immigration sparked a diplomatic row with Italy.
In an interview Thursday, Gerald Darmanin said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was “incapable of solving the immigration problems on which she was elected.”
The Italian foreign minister described the remarks as “unacceptable” and withdrew from a planned visit to Paris.
In an effort to defuse the row, the French Foreign Ministry said it would like to work with Italy on common challenges.
This year, Italy has seen a spike in arrivals by sea from Tunisia, as authorities crack down on illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
Most of the 42,000 people who have arrived from North Africa this year have come from Tunisia, prompting Italy to declare a state of emergency.
The sharp rise in numbers was a setback for Meloni’s far-right Brotherhood of Italy party, which won elections last year promising to crack down on irregular migration.
Speaking to RMC radio, France’s interior minister said the Italian government was “unable to deal with migratory pressure” and blamed Rome for the recent influx of migrants, particularly children, who have entered southern France.
Meloni ran for office on a tough “Just watch me” stance, he said: “And what you see, is it [immigration] Continue and intensify.”
Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani responded on Twitter, saying that “Gerald Darmanin’s insults to the government and Italy” were unacceptable. “This is not the spirit in which common European challenges should be dealt with,” he said.
Tajani canceled a visit to Paris, where he was due to meet his French counterpart, Catherine Colonna, on Thursday evening.
The French Foreign Ministry has since sought to ease tensions. “The French government wishes to work with Italy to address the common challenge of rapidly increasing migratory flows,” it said in a statement.
This is not the first time that Italy’s right-wing government has had a run-in with its French neighbors since it came to power last October.
Within weeks, ministers in Rome refused to allow an NGO rescue boat with more than 230 migrants on board to dock, prompting France to allow the ship to enter port.
But Macron’s government also faces criticism over its handling of migration across the Italian Alps, and the latest row stems from domestic political pressure.
At the end of April, Prime Minister Elisabeth Bourne boosted police numbers near France’s southeastern border.
Visiting the region this week, the leader of the far-right National Rally party said the government’s response was lax and helpless.
During his interview on French radio, Darmanin noted that the “far-right government” headed by Georgia Meloni had been chosen by friends of Bardella’s fellow National Assembly, Marine Le Pen.
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