France will not be drawn into 'stupidity contest' with populist Italy, says minister

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France will not be drawn into 'stupidity contest' with populist Italy, says minister
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini meets the foreign press in December in Rome. Photo: AFP

Paris will not be drawn into a "stupidity contest" with the populist government of Italy, where officials have launched verbal attacks on the French president, Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau said Wednesday.


"Our intention is not to have a stupidity contest," the French minister said, adding that the government would not wage a war of words or otherwise seek to retaliate against Rome.

The remark came after Italy's far-right interior minister worsened already strained relations between Rome and Paris by saying he hoped the French could soon free themselves of their "terrible president."

"The opportunity will come on May 26 (the European elections) when finally the French people will be able to take back control of its future, destiny, (and) pride, which are poorly represented by a character like (Emmanuel) Macron", Matteo Salvini said in a Facebook video.

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, said he felt "close, with all my heart... to the French people, the millions of men and women who live in France under a terrible government and terrible president."

The fresh attack on Macron was one of a barrage of taunts and criticisms coming from Italy’s government this week.

On Monday, Salvini blamed French oil interests in Libya for Paris’ alleged lack of interest in “stabilising the situation” there.

And Italy’s ambassador was summoned by the French government on Monday in protest after Italy’s other deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio blamed France for impoverishing Africa and accused the country of continuing to “colonise” African nations.

The Five Star Movement (M5S) leader reportedly said on Sunday: “In order to keep the Africans in Africa, it would be enough for the French to stay at home.”

Relations between the two capitals, usually close EU allies, have deteriorated sharply since the M5S-League coalition became the European Union's first populist-only government in June last year.

Italy's far-right populist League (formerly the Northern League) is a close European ally of France's National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen, formerly the National Front which, like Salvini's party, changed its name early last year in attempt to shake off its reputation for racism.



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