Recalled French ambassador returns to Rome


The French ambassador to Rome, recalled last week in protest at what Paris described as 'unfounded attacks and outlandish claims' by Italy's populist coalition government, as well as a recent unannounced visit to France by deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio to meet with anti-government 'yellow vest' prostestors, returned to the Italian capital on Friday.

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France's ambassador to Italy is set to return to Rome on Friday after being recalled for a week as a protest, but analysts warn that relations between the two neighbours are likely to remain rocky, reports FRANCE 24.

France announced on February 7th that it was recalling its ambassador to protest "unfounded attacks and outlandish claims" by Italy's populist coalition government, as well as an unannounced visit to France by deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio.

"He will return today to Rome," European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau told RTL radio on Friday.

Relations between the two countries are at their lowest level since the end of World War II due to repeated clashes between Italy's populist leaders Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini and France's centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

The government in Paris was left incensed when Di Maio made a surprise visit to France on February 5th to meet with a group of radical "yellow vest" protesters who have led demonstrations against Macron.

"The wind of change has crossed the Alps," Di Maio wrote afterwards of the three months of protests against Macron, adding that he was preparing a common front ahead of European Parliament elections in May.

Explaining the symbolic step of recalling France's ambassador, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a "line was crossed" with the visit, which was organised without French authorities being informed.

The last time Paris recalled its ambassador to Rome was during the World War II when Italy, under leader Benito Mussolini, invaded France in 1940.

The current icy ties between two founding members of the European Union has many analysts wondering about the consequences for the bloc, given that French-Italian ties have been a generally stable axis in a bloc.

It already risks complicating a major infrastructure project between the countries that would result in a a tunnel being bored under the Alps to link the important regional cities of Lyon and Turin.

Work on the 57.5-kilometre (36-mile) tunnel, set to cost an estimated 8.6 billion euros (9.7 billion dollars), is currently suspended pending a green light from the Italian government.

Di Maio's party, the Five Star Movement, is opposed to the project, while his coalition partner the far-right Ligue party, headed by Salvini, is in favour.

"France clearly respects the time that our Italian partners wanted to take. But today we are saying clearly to the Italians that this decision needs to come," French transport minister Elizabeth Borne told the Public Sénat TV channel on Friday.

Analysts and diplomats say that relations between the countries have been affected by the fundamentally different outlooks of Macron, a pro-European centrist, and the eurosceptic government in Rome, which includes the far right.

There are also deep-running economic tensions, competition for influence in Libya, and a sense in Italy that France has done little to help its neighbour cope with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants in recent years.

Read more of this AFP report published by FRANCE 24.


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