Keep out of yellow vest revolt, France warns Italy, after populist ministers offer support to movement
Posted On July 13, 2020
France has accused Italy of interfering in its affairs after the populist government in Rome, which rode to power last year on a wave of anti-establishment sentiment, offered to help the "yellow vest" movement.
Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio, who are both deputy prime ministers, gave enthusiastic encouragement to the gilets jaunes, whose protests have turned increasingly violent in Paris and other cities.
While condemning violent acts, Mr Salvini, who is also interior minister, said he supported “honest citizens who protest against a president who governs against his people.”
Mr Di Maio, who is the head of the Five Star Movement, offered the protesters the use of his party’s Rousseau system, an internet platform that allows supporters to vote for candidates and propose legislation, eyeing the prospect of the gilets jaunes becoming a nascent political party.
That earned him a sharp rebuke from Nathalie Loiseau, France’s minister for European affairs, who tweeted: “France refrains from giving lessons to Italy. Monsieurs Salvini and Di Maio should first put their own house in order.”
Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, she added: “The priority for the Italian government is to look after the well-being of the Italian people. I’m not sure what being interested in the yellow vests has to do with the well-being of the Italians.”
The row intensified when Mr Di Maio accused the French of hypocrisy by calling for Italy to butt out of their business.
“Maybe (Ms Loiseau) forgets that her president compared us to leprosy when talking about our government,” he said.
In June, Emmanuel Macron compared Eurosceptic, populist movements to a disease that needed to be resisted by moderates.
“You can see them rise a bit like leprosy all across Europe, in countries where we thought that it would be impossible to see them again,” he said.
He cited the example of “neighbouring countries” but did not specifically refer to Italy.
The Italians took offence nonetheless, with Mr Di Maio calling the remarks “offensive”.
The row over the yellow vests has exacerbated the bad blood between the French and Italian governments, with the coalition in Rome repeatedly accusing Mr Macron of failing to shoulder responsibility for the migrant crisis and of ordering asylum seekers to be rounded up in France and pushed back to Italy.
They also differ fundamentally on their view of the EU, with Mr Macron seeking to reinvigorate the European project while the Italian coalition espouses openly Eurosceptic views.
The gulf is likely to widen in the run-up to the European Parliament elections in May, with Mr Salvini in particular emerging as a vocal leader of populism across the continent while President Macron endeavours to shore up the establishment.
Mr Di Maio may meet two of the more moderate leaders of gilets jaunes movement when they visit Rome this weekend, according to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
Yellow vest groups in France are being courted by parties across the political spectrum with several offering them places in a joint list for the May European ballot.
Some gilets jaunes are calling for the disparate movement to field its own list, which polls suggest could capture eight per cent of the vote. That would ironically eat into nationalist, Eurosceptic parties, chief among them Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, which is currently in pole position ahead of Mr Macron’s party for European Parliament seats.
In the event of a yellow vest list, her share of the vote would shrink from 24 per cent to 21 per cent, ahead of Mr Macron’s Europe on the Move party, on 19 per cent.