France lambasts Meloni for 'inhuman' migrant policy

ROME – Tempers have flared between the Italian and French governments over the migrant issue following comments from the French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, and Stephane Séjourné, chairman of Emmanuel Macron's party, about Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s ‘inhuman’ migrant policies. The diplomatic spat has led the Italian Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani, to cancel his visit in Paris and has since worsened following Meloni’s meeting with rebel Libyan leader, General Haftar, in Rome.

 Talking about the situation at the Franco-Italian border in an interview with RMC radio, Darmanin accused Italy of being the cause of immigration problems in the south of France.

 “Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is incapable of solving the migratory problems for which she was elected,” Darmanin said.

 “In Tunisia there is a political situation that leads many, especially children, to go up through Italy, but Italy is uncapable of managing this migratory pressure,” he continued.

 He also accused Meloni of lying to the population. “There is a vice in the extreme right, which is to lie to the population,” Darmanin continued.

 Following these remarks, Tajani decided to cancel his visit to Paris to meet his French counterpart, Catherine Colonna, for bilateral talks that had been planned for months. Tajani wrote on Twitter “I will not be going to Paris for the planned meeting with Colonna. The insults to the government and Italy uttered by Minister Darmanin are unacceptable. This is not the spirit in which common European challenges should be addressed.”

 The French government immediately tried to defuse the situation and released a statement saying “Paris hopes that the foreign minister’s visit will be quickly rescheduled.”

 Colonna then intervened directly writing on Twitter, “I spoke with my colleague Antonio Tajani on the phone. I told him that the relationship between Italy and France is based on mutual respect, between our two countries and between their leaders. I hope to welcome him to Paris soon.”

 Among the first to defend Meloni from Darmanin’s remarks was her brother-in-law and Minister of Agriculture, Francesco Lollobrigida. “Should I comment on the French ministers? Why should I waste my time?” Lollobrigida continued his defence by referring to the wave of protests ripping through France over controversial pension reforms, “Has she solved her problems of demonstrations with pots and pans? Think of yourself and your own problems before thinking of Italy.”

 The anger at Darmanin’s words however has diffused into the other Ministries. The Italian Minister of Sport Abodi did not attend the “Night of ideas” hosted by the French ambassador in Italy, Christian Masset, on Thursday evening. The official reason for his absence is the Cabinet meeting, however a connection can be made with the current spat between Rome and Paris.

 It is likely that the diplomatic spat will worsen given Meloni’s meeting on Thursday with the rebel Libyan leader General Haftar in Rome. No press conference followed the meeting which is likely to have focused on a financial inducement to get the rebel leader to reduce migrant departures from Cyrenica, which is a major factor in fuelling French anger at Italian policies since France supports the recognised Libyan government in Tripoli that Haftar is fighting to oust.

 The Italian ministry of Interior reveals that out of 16,000 migrants arrived from Libya in the first four months of 2023, around 10,000 left from the coast controlled by general Haftar, Cyrenaica.

 Stephane Séjourné, chairman of Emmanuel Macron's party, has recently been quoted in French newspaper saying "Giorgia Meloni becomes an example for Marine Le Pen in the fight against immigration." This is a sign that the spat is once more worsening.

 "The French extreme right takes the Italian extreme right as a model. We have to denounce their incompetence and their impotence," said Séjourné, while the French government in recent days has tried to mend the rift that broke out after the statements made by Darmanin, who called the Italian premier "incapable" of managing the country's migration policy.   "Meloni is very demagogic about illegal immigration: her policy is unfair, inhuman and ineffective," Séjourné added. Words that, according to the French conservative newspaper, are expected to be reiterated by the MEP on 25 May in Rome, on the occasion of the Renew European Group seminar.

 But above all, Séjourné's positions seem to confirm the thesis that would see Darmanin's recent attack on the Italian government as an internal political move aimed at striking Marine Le Pen, Macron's main rival.