ROME (Reuters) – France accused Italy on Tuesday of acting hysterically over immigration and failing to live up to its duties, triggering a fresh war of words between the increasingly acrimonious European neighbours.
Paris and Rome have repeatedly clashed over the past year on immigration as the Italian government looks to stop charity rescue ships from picking up would-be asylum seekers in the Mediterranean sea and bringing them to Italy.
“I think that basically the Italian government has not been up to the task,” spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye told France’s BFM-TV, taking particular aim at Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who has recently approved new anti-immigrant measures.
“Mr. Matteo Salvini’s behaviour has not been acceptable as far as I am concerned,” she said, accusing him of creating a “hysterical” atmosphere over immigration. “This is a painful subject, a complex subject which the EU and France have previously been in solidarity with Italy over,” she added.
Salvini, who heads the far-right League party, the country’s largest political force, hit back.
“My behaviour regarding immigration is unacceptable? The French government should stop with these insults and open its ports (to migrants),” Salvini said in a statement.
“Italians have already received too many (migrants) and spent too much. The next boats? They should head to Marseilles,” he said, referring to the southern French port city.
The latest blow-up centres on moves by Salvini to make it even harder for non-government rescue vessels from docking in Italy, which led to a Dutch-flagged ship carrying some 41 Africans being kept at sea for more than two weeks.
The boat eventually disobeyed orders and docked, but the German captain now faces criminal charges.
France briefly recalled its ambassador from Rome in February to protest against what it described as “repeated, baseless” attacks by Italian political leaders on Paris.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome and Dominique Vidalon in Paris; Editing by Andrew Heavens)