France has summoned the Italian ambassador following Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio’s accusations that France is exploiting Africa and fuelling migration to Europe.
The war of words between France and Italy escalated over the weekend with Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio accusing France of being the prime cause of the ‘migrant crisis’ in Europe.
But is the tit for tat really about migration or does it cut deeper than the so-called migrant crisis?
Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the far-right party Five Star Movement, raised eyebrows when he asked the European Union to consider imposing sanctions on France for their colonial history in Africa, but ironically failed to mention Italy’s own colonial past in the continent.
He said France had “never stopped colonising tens of African states”.
The far-right leader added: “France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts.
“If people are leaving today it’s because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonising dozens of African countries.”
France and Italy have in the past clashed over migration. Italy has seen more than 648,000 migrants land on its shore since 2014.
Last year French President Macron accused Italy of not taking migrants, with Italy then accusing France of escorting migrants secretly back to Italy.
Since the current right-wing populist government took power in Italy in June 2018, Macron has attempted to portray himself as the last ideological bulwark of a liberal Europe.
In turn, the Italian government has thrown its support behind the Yellow Vest movement.
“Yellow vests, do not give up!” Di Maio recently wrote in a post on Twitter.
The Five Star Movement leader and Matteo Salvini, leader of the party Lega Nord, have been governing in a coalition that has presided over an increasingly hostile rhetoric towards migrants.
French involvement in Africa
France continues to exercise a disproportionate influence over the military and politics of 20 African countries.
It is estimated to have more than 3,000 troops stationed across five African countries, including Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, under the guise of fighting terrorism.
For decades France has been fighting secret wars in Africa leading the “French to slaughter democrats, install dictator after dictator; and to fund and fuel the most vicious genocide since the Nazis” a 2007 investigative report by journalist Johann Hari said.
Meanwhile Italy and France, according to a Stratfor report in September of last year, are increasingly engaged in a battle for influence in Libya.
Italy, a former colonial power in Libya, believes that it should exercise influence, resulting in both sides backing opposite factions in the war-ridden country.
In 2008, Italy agreed to pay $5 billion in reparations for its 32-year occupation of the country, which ended in 1943.
France, on the other hand, has only recently admitted that it has engaged in brutality during its occupation of Algeria. However, talk of reparations for colonial-era plundering of resources has largely remained a taboo topic in France.
In the words of Di Maio: “If Europe wants to be brave, it must have the courage to confront the issue of decolonisation in Africa.”
A wider rift in the EU bloc
The spat between France and Italy goes far beyond these two states, with hostilities emerging between several European states.
Increasingly, Eastern European countries such as Hungary and Poland have defied what they consider EU dictates on taking more immigrants, both countries late last year pulled out of the UN migration pact and voted against it at the UN.
Several other EU countries, including Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, have seen increasingly right-wing governments rebel against French and German requests to take more migrants.