Di Maio clashes with Macron over 'leprosy' of populism

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio (left) and French President Emmanuel Macron

ROME – As tension re-emerges between Italy and France over migration, Italian Deputy Prime Minster Luigi Di Maio branded French President Emmanuel Macron a hypocrite after the latter hit out at the populist “leprosy” spreading across Europe, political sources said.

 Macron had urged European supporters and political commentators, during a visit to Brittany on Thursday, to fight those who “hate Europe.”

 “You see them growing like leprosy, a little bit everywhere in Europe, in countries where we thought it was impossible to see them reappear,” he said.

 “Our neighbours are saying the worst things and we’re getting used to it! They’re making the worst provocations and no one is horrified by that,” Macron added, without specific reference to Italy.

 Di Maio retaliated to the Macron’s words, which he described as “offensive and out of place.”

 “The real leprosy is the hypocrisy of someone who pushes back immigrants at Ventimiglia [an Italian-French border town] and then wants to preach to us about our sacrosanct right to ask for an equal distribution of migrants,” Di Maio tweeted.

 Never far from a migration quarrel, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini also muscled in, dismissing Macron as a “chatterbox” and saying that he won’t “take lessons from a country that has the army at the Italian border.”

 “There are those who talk and those who act,” said the hard line anti-migrant minister who called for the detainment of a German migrant rescue ship on Friday, labelling their operations “illegal,” whilst the crew await instructions for a safe landing. “If France takes ten boats from Libya, we’ll talk about it.”

 Tension has been high between the two countries ever since Salvini refused access to the Aquarius NGO rescue vessel, carrying over 600 migrants, who were eventually re-directed to Valencia after finding themselves stranded amid a protracted Italian-Maltese government clash.