A diplomatic spat between Italy and France over migration to Europe is a likely forerunner of coming political battles in the run-up to European Parliament elections, according to analysts.
Paris summoned the Italian ambassador this week after Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio accused France of "impoverishing African countries."
“If today we still have people leaving Africa, it is due to several European countries, first of all France, that didn't finish colonizing Africa,” Di Maio told reporters Sunday.
“The European Union should sanction all those countries, like France, that are impoverishing African countries and obliging those people to leave. The place for African people is Africa and not at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea," he added. "If we want to stem the departures (of migrants), let's start addressing this issue, let's start coping with it also within the United Nations, not only at the European Union level. Italy has to make itself heard.”
Di Maio said France was manipulating the economies of 14 African countries that use the CFA franc, a currency underwritten by the French Treasury and pegged to the Euro.
Analyst Luigi Scazzieri of the Center For European Reform says while there is opposition to the CFA franc in some African countries, Di Maio’s accusations are misleading.
“Now there’s two reasons for that. One of them being that at the moment the latest data suggests they (migrants) are not from countries using the CFA franc. And the second point is that in any case, if countries remain poor, migration is actually lower,” Scazzieri told VOA.
The latest EU figures show that many African migrants to Europe come from former Italian colonies, such as Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The Franco-Italian dispute follows the drowning of hundreds of migrants off Libya in recent days. The deaths have renewed the focus on Italy’s decision to end search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean – and on the European Union’s failure to agree a system to share quotas of refugees, analyst Scazzieri said.
“Italy (is) wanting France to take migrants who arrive on its shores, or at least part of them. And also disagreements over how to handle Libya, with Italy and France backing different sides in the Libyan civil war," he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has not responded directly to the Italian accusations. He has sought to renew EU political momentum with a new Franco-German treaty, signed Tuesday in the border town of Aachen.
"The eurosceptics, nationalists, benefit from the fear in Europe's people, and they say: 'The answer on your fears is nationalism,' and we don't believe this,” Macron said in a speech to mark the signing of the treaty.
The dispute is a taste of what’s to come as populist forces like Italy’s 5-Star Movement and the League join battle with pro-Europeans.
“This contraposition has been created whereby Italy is the populists and Macron is the Europeanists. And it suits both sides in a sense to have each other as the bogeyman. Of course this is especially important in light of the upcoming European Parliament elections,” Scazzieri said.
The battle lines are being drawn for what is set to be a bitter election campaign – with migration at the heart of the debate over Europe’s future.