By Prince Kuripati
In the past week, tensions rose between France and Italy after Italian Deputy Prime Minister stated that France was the reason behind the massive influx of African immigrants in Europe. The bold statement by the Italian Deputy Prime Minister angered a number of top government officials in France including the President himself, Emmanuel Macron.
Speaking at a rally in the Abruzzo region in central Italy, Luigi Di Maio, leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and Italy’s Deputy PM stated that France was impoverishing African nations with “colonialist” policies. In a scathing attack, Luigi Di Maio went on to elaborate on how France was ‘impoverishing’ Africa and in the process fueling the massive influx of African immigrants in Africa.
Speaking after news broke out on recent mass migrant drownings in the Mediterranean, Luigi Di Maio said that France was the main factor why African were running away from their countries to Europe. According to the Italian Deputy PM, “We would be hypocrites if we just continued to talk about the effects without looking for the causes. If today we have people coming from Africa it’s because some European countries like France never stopped colonizing Africa in their heads.”
In supporting his statement, the Italian Deputy PM who also serves as the minister of economic development referred to the CFA franc, a currency which is used in 14 former French colonies in West and Central Africa. The currency is guaranteed by the French Treasury and has a fixed rate of exchange with the euro. While it is credited for providing African countries with financial stability, it has often been criticized as a relic of colonial times by proponents of Africa’s full independence from France. They argue that the CFA franc, created in 1945, impedes their economic development as they have no say in French or European monetary policy.
For the role that France has played in impoverishing Africa, Luigi Di Maio called upon the UN to impose sanctions of France for “impoverishing those states (African countries) and triggering those people.” Luigi Di Maio went on to state that France should be subjected to sanctions by the EU.
The sentiments expressed by the Italian Deputy PM have further led to the deterioration of relations between France and Italy as in recent times Macron chastised the Italian government for its refusal to pick up migrants stranded at sea, with his spokesman calling the policy “sickening” and “unacceptable.” Italy brushed off the criticism, accusing the French government of hypocrisy. Relations between the French and Italian governments were already strained, with Di Maio – along with anti-immigrant Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini – voicing their support for Yellow Vest protests that have plagued Macron’s government since November.
Speaking at the ongoing World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte added fuel to the fire asking France to hand its UN Security Council seat over to the EU. “If France wants to put at our disposal its seat on the UN Security Council, let’s talk about it and do it in a European context — if we really want to give importance to that context…Our goal cannot be giving one seat more to an individual European country.”
Sentiments by Luigi Di Maio came after reports came out stating that up to 170 migrants who left Libya and Morocco on ramshackle dinghies may have drowned in the sea last week. Of the 170, three were saved by the Italian Navy on Friday of the coast of Lampedusa. The survivors said they were a part of a group of 120 people that sailed from Libya. Their boat started to sink after they were at sea for about 10 hours. The victims, according to migrant organizations, include a two-month-old child and at least 10 women. Separately, another boat carrying 53 migrants capsized in the western Mediterranean, according to the sole survivor of the incident.
The French government in light of Luigi Di Maio summoned the Italian ambassador to protest about Di Maio’s comments. Italy, Spain and Greece are the first destinations of migrants and asylum seekers arriving from Africa to Europe.
The European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, Pierre Moscovici issued a stark warning to Italy’s leaders currently entwined in a row over Paris’ presence in the African continent. Arguing France and Italy have a lot in commons, including being two of the six founding members of the European Economic Community, Mr Moscovici advised Rome to find again harmony with Paris. Speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing Economic and Financial Affairs Council in Brussels, he said: “The relationship between France and Italy are so close, so intimate, if you look at the economy, look at culture, and look at their history that any kind of confrontation between these two countries is a pity.
Pierre Moscovici went on to state that “some remarks are just silly and they shouldn’t take place in that debate…I think that those who are statesmen who have some responsibilities in their countries should have this history in their minds…The only things they should be working on is to draw closer France and Italy because those countries are again founders of the European project, they are intimate, close, and they need to remain so…Any other remark is unfriendly, unwelcome, and sometimes very inappropriate and even absurd.”