Italian minister cancels France meeting over migrant tensions

Rescued migrants and humanitarian workers on board an Italian coastguard vessel following their transfer from the French Medecins Sans Frontiers (doctors without borders) ship Aquarius. Relations between France and Italy became strained after French
Rescued migrants and humanitarian workers on board an Italian coastguard vessel following their transfer from the French Medecins Sans Frontiers (doctors without borders) ship Aquarius. Relations between France and Italy became strained after French President Emmanuel Macron had blasted the Italians for turning away more than 600 migrants left stranded on a French charity's rescue ship in the Mediterranean.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ROME • Italian Economy Minister Giovanni Tria has cancelled a meeting scheduled yesterday with his French counterpart because of tensions between the two countries over immigration issues, a source from his ministry said.

Mr Tria was due to meet French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in Paris, one of his first important encounters since taking office in Italy's new anti-establishment government.

He is still due to meet German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz today in Berlin, the source said.

Earlier yesterday, Italy's Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador over remarks made by French President Emmanuel Macron condemning Rome's decision to close its ports to humanitarian rescue ships.

France said it is "perfectly aware" of the pressure on Italy as it copes with an influx of migrants from Africa, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday, and is "committed to cooperation and dialogue" on the issue.

The comment came amid an escalating row between the two countries after France criticised Italy's decision at the weekend to turn away a rescue boat carrying more than 600 migrants.

Mr Macron had blasted Italy for its "cynicism and irresponsibility" in refusing to welcome 629 migrants left stranded on a French charity's rescue ship in the Mediterranean before Spain agreed to take them in.

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has suggested that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte should cancel a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron tomorrow unless Paris apologises.

"If an official apology doesn't arrive, Prime Minister Conte would be right not to go to France," Mr Salvini told reporters after demanding that France take in more migrants.

Mr Macron had blasted Italy for its "cynicism and irresponsibility" in refusing to welcome 629 migrants left stranded on a French charity's rescue ship in the Mediterranean before Spain agreed to take them in.

Gabriel Attal, the spokesman for Mr Macron's party, called Italy's actions "nauseating".

Italy's Foreign Affairs Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi summoned the French ambassador to Rome over the comments yesterday, saying in a statement that "the Italian government considers unacceptable the words publicly pronounced yesterday in Paris".

Mr Milanesi added that the comments made by France were "compromising relations between Italy and France".

Mr Salvini's far-right League party campaigned on taking a hard line on migrants ahead of March's election and rose to power as part of Italy's eurosceptic, populist government that took office this month.

"We are perfectly aware of the weight of migratory pressure on Italy and the efforts of this country," a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

"Nothing said by France has questioned this, nor the need to coordinate closely among Europeans."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2018, with the headline 'Italian minister cancels France meeting over migrant tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe