‘I never meant to offend you’: Macron tries to smooth over migrant row with Italy

French President Emmanuel Macron attempted to resolve tensions with Italy on Thursday, saying he never meant to cause offense by criticising its rejection of a migrant ship in remarks that sparked fury in Rome.

'I never meant to offend you': Macron tries to smooth over migrant row with Italy
Macron (L) shakes hands with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. File photo: AFP
Macron had on Tuesday ignited the worst Franco-Italian diplomatic spat in years by accusing Rome of “cynicism and irresponsibility” for refusing to take in 629 migrants left stranded on a rescue ship that was eventually welcomed by Spain.
Rome summoned France's ambassador over Macron's comments and suggested a planned meeting between Macron and Italian President Giuseppe Conte in Paris on Friday could be cancelled unless Paris issued an “official apology”.
As the war of words intensified, Italy's new economy minister shelved a meeting Wednesday with his French counterpart in Paris.
But the tensions appeared to have ebbed after a telephone call Wednesday night between Macron and Conte.
“The president stressed that none of his comments were intended to offend Italy and the Italian people,” Macron's office said in a statement.
Friday's lunch meeting between the two leaders will go ahead as planned, the statement added.
'Irresponsible': France blasts Italy but defends not taking in stranded migrant ship
Migrant ship, Aquarius. Photo: AFP
The plight of the Aquarius rescue ship has shone a light on the failure of EU members to band together in the face of an unprecedented influx of migrants arriving across the Mediterranean since 2015.
Under EU rules, migrants must apply for asylum in the European country where they first arrive, putting pressure on Italy and Greece, the main entry points for people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
An EU scheme to distribute migrants equitably around the bloc has failed miserably, with central European members flatly refusing the quotas and others, including France, falling far short of their allocated target.
On Wednesday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz hailed cooperation between the hardline interior ministers of Austria, Germany and Italy on the question of migrants.
“We believe an axis of the willing is needed to fight illegal migration,” he said.
More than 700,000 migrants have landed in Italy since 2013. 
Many West Africans have continued on to France, only to be sent back to Italy to have their asylum claims processed there.
What rules apply to migrants rescued at sea?
Photo: AFP
In a swipe at Macron, Italy's government said Tuesday it would not accept “hypocritical lessons from countries that have preferred to look the other way 
on immigration”.
Macron told Conte he has “always defended the need for greater European solidarity with the Italian people” and called for closer cooperation between Rome and Paris to try to check the migrant flows at their source — currently mainly in Africa.
'Making a mockery of Italy'
France's European Affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau on Thursday defended France's record on taking in migrants following criticism of Macron's initial silence on the plight of the Aquarius.
“France last year received a record number of asylum seekers,” she said, referring to the 100,000 asylum requests received by the country.
France, she said, had also taken the second-biggest share of migrants relocated from Greece and Italy.
“We're doing a lot but it's true: Europe must do more and must do better to help Italy,” she said.
The issue of how to share the migrant burden is expected to dominate an EU summit at the end of June.
Italy's deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio struck a combative tone on Thursday.
“The day when people thought they could make a mockery of Italy is over,” Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement that shares power with the far-right League party, was quoted by Agi news agency as saying.

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Macron to make live TV broadcast to France

French president Emmanuel Macron will make a live TV broadcast to the nation about the war in Ukraine.

Macron to make live TV broadcast to France

Macron will be on TV on Wednesday at 8pm, the Elysée confirmed earlier on Wednesday.

Macron also tweeted the announcement, saying that his speech will be on the subject of the war in Ukraine.

His office added that the president’s speech “will not touch on other matters” – Macron has only until Friday to confirm whether or not he is running for re-election.

It is widely considered to be extremely unlikely that he would not stand in the April elections, but all candidates have until Friday, March 4th, to make their declaration.

Macron’s team had previously announced a rally in Marseille on Saturday, March 5th, which was expected to be the first official campaign event, but on Tuesday this was cancelled because of the ongoing international crisis.

Macron was at the forefront of international efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, and since Russia invaded Ukraine he has remained in close contact with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, and has also spoken – at the request of Zelensky – to Russian premier Vladimir Putin.

The Local will be following Macron’s speech live from 8pm HERE.