A meeting between Italy’s prime minister and the French president is in doubt amid an ugly spat between the two countries over Rome’s refusal to take in a migrant rescue ship.
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is due to hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on the contentious issue of migration on Friday ahead of a European summit.
But the meeting has been thrown into doubt as the two countries trade barbs over the treatment of more than 600 migrants rescued off the Libyan coast at the weekend.
The migrants were stranded on the NGO vessel Aquarius until Spain said the ship could land at its port of Valencia. It is expected to arrive there late on Saturday.
Macron accused Italy’s new populist government of “cynicism and irresponsibility” for closing its ports to the 629 migrants, comments Rome blasted as “unacceptable”.
“Such statements are undermining relations between Italy and France,” Italy’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday after summoning the French ambassador.
Matteo Salvini, the powerful interior minister and deputy PM, said Conte’s meeting with Macron should be cancelled if France did not issue an “official apology”.
His words were echoed by Luigi di Maio, another deputy PM, who said on Thursday morning that Rome was still waiting for an apology
Italy’s Economy Minister Giovanni Tria, meanwhile, announced he was shelving a meeting with his French counterpart in Paris, though French sources said the two ministers had agreed to meet “in the coming days”.
Macron has appealed for the two sides not to “give in to emotions that certain people are manipulating”.
In a speech in the western French town of Mouchamps on Wednesday, he insisted that France was “working hand in hand with Italy” to handle migration.
From ‘words to action’
Italy has repeatedly accused fellow EU members of abandoning it as it struggles to cope with migrants making the perilous journey from Africa across the Mediterranean.
The country has seen more than 700,000 migrants arrive on its shores since 2013.