France Recalls Ambassador to Italy, Revealing Strains at Europe’s Core

Building tensions reached a breaking point after Italy’s deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, met this week in France with a Yellow Vest leader.

Comments: 68

  1. Why do EU nations have ambassadors with other EU nations? Or embassies? Looks like low hanging fruit for a staff reduction effort.

  2. The EU doesn't replace bilateral relationships between countries. Which means that embassies are still needed.

  3. @Michael Blazin This is the inherent misunderstanding of what the EU actually stands for. Obviously it’s a transnational governing system, but individual countries still retain much of their character. It’s a bargain. You cede some power (monetary policy, regulatory rules, some border controls) for access to a large market, a bloc of countries that has the weight to stand up to the United States, China, Russia, and other large countries, and peace. Let us not forget that before 1945 a reliable way to die in Europe was in armed conflict.

  4. @Hugo Othmani True, but largely it probably should among members of the Schengen Area. Cultural exchanges and economic co-operation between private business do not require an embassy.

  5. That as of my reading of this article—hours into its publication—there are precisely 3 comments points to another problem: the American readership’s indifference to a terribly troubling development under a darkening European sky.

  6. Am I the only one who suspects the rise of European populism is a resurgence of fascism in modern disguise? It seems that the countries that embraced fascism (Hungary, Italy) are now embracing populism.

  7. @Prazan Dear Prazan, It could be, but unless someone far more charismatic comes along than I can see on the political landscape, the parliamentarian systems are much too fractured to allow for such a consolidation of power.

  8. Italy fomenting conflict in France and harboring French anarchist Yellow Vests. I never thought I'd see this happen. I attribute this to all the years of French co-domination of the EU (along with the Germans). The French in their arrogance believes the EU to be a mere extension of French power, and the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe just colonial peripheries. Now that attitude has come back to haunt Paris it would seem. I guess the Italians haven't forgotten insults like the PIGS to describe Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain. The Italians have not forgotten the efforts by the French to 'de-officialize' the Italian language for EU business, etc, etc.

  9. @HK Italy is not fomenting anything nor harboring French anarchists (you are confusing with France that harbors Italian terrorists convincted for murder in Italy). Mr. Di Maio showed his support to political opponents of Mr. Macron, as Mr. Macron did supporting Italian opposition. Many people forget that in Europe it is common since 10 years to support their european allies when election come (as Macron did to Yelp Italian democrat party). The move of mr. Macron aims to rise tones up fingering an alien enemy to gain support when his popularity hits the ground.

  10. You have to give Putin credit. Without firing a shot, he’s been able to hasten America’s decline and has the EU nations fighting with one another. He’s a true genius, if an evil one.

  11. @LIChef Russia's biggest market for oil, gas, and raw materials is Europe. He didn't have to do anything except sit back and wait for them to come begging.

  12. You give Putin too much credit. The root cause of the rise of populism in Italy is its economic malaise, which isn't down to Putin. Italy has just entered its 3rd recession in 10 years, its economy is 5% smaller today than it was 10 years ago, manufacturing has slumped, living standards are in decline, and youth unemployment remains stubbornly high. The EU was supposed to be a trade-off, between political sovereignty and economic prosperity. Well, it's taken more and more power over the years, but is failing to deliver what was promised. The Euro-era has been miserable for Italy, there are no signs of progress, and a once proud nation now has to ask bureaucrats in Brussels to give approval for its national budget, or face sanction. The best thing Italy could do for itself is bring back the Lira - in those years it had an economy that grew.

  13. @Joe Schmoe Dear Joe Schmoe, Mr. Putin does not hold as good a hand as you imagine. There are many other countries that can supply the EU with the needed fuel. If he gets too pushy, they will shop elsewhere. He needs their business just as much as they need a reliable source of fuel. If he tries petro-blackmail, he will lose one of his best customers. Not good for a commodity based economy.

  14. Mr. Macron made some nasty comments about the 5 Star movement and now Mr. Di Maio is responding in kind. It is to be hoped that they can turn down the heat of the rhetoric, but as both sides are in struggle for their own political future, it seems unlikely. Having lived in Italy 2007 to 2016, most of the people I know would rather be in the EU rather than out, but on the immigration issue, those same Italians are very opposed to the invasion from North Africa and the Middle East of illegal immigrants.

  15. When I was born, both these countries were aflame with war, brought to ruin by 'populist' movements and raging dictators. There's no guarantee that it can't happen again.

  16. I understand the seriousness of the issue but the opera reference was perfect. I'm also studying Italian in preparation for a trip this summer and even the language has a bit of an attitude. It is funny that governments fall so easily into stereotypes. Oo Oo... somebody should do a parody of this as an argument between two lovers!!!!!

  17. If the whole block wasn’t hamstrung by the Germans — who demand to run budget surpluses and make completely self-interested monetary and economic choices that are literally strangling Southern Europe in economic peril — this wouldn’t be an issue, the populists wouldn’t have any wind in their sails, and the Euro would be strong. Unfortunately, the Germans are petulant: they were all for easy money when it suited them, turning a blind eye to Southern Europe’s naivety when they were getting in over their heads, then they were all for draconian austerity because they couldn’t accept even one drop of responsibility for being on the hook for the bad loans and economic collapse of their southern neighbors. The through line here is the Germans cannot be bothered. They agreed to be in an economic union, they weren’t forced into it. When the world economy collapsed in 2008, heaven forbid they had to carry any water for the countries they were bound to in currency and union. What should have happened is the Germans should have either left the union, or, accepted that they were not going to get paid back. Just ask California about Mississippi. How much money have they given that they’re literally never going to see again? Yea. THAT’S HOW IT WORKS when you agree to get into a union with another sovereign entity that can make its own decisions. Want all this populism to stop? It’s the economies, stupid (Germans).

  18. @In The Belly Of The Beast Thank you. We should also hold Germany accountable for Russia, in my opinion. They salivated at the chance to turn the countries to their east into economic vassals. I bet they even dreamed of Russia becoming one of their junior partners. The amount of animosity antagonism their greed has created is stunning. To make matters worse, they channeling fortunes back into Russia due to their energy and resource dependence. The center of mass for European leadership needs to shift back south and west, i.e. France. France's values are more in line with the rest of the Europe. But dear lord, Macron dreams of speaking German with Merkel over tea or something.

  19. @In The Belly Of The Beast The Germans pay more into the EU than any other country in the Union by far, whereas Greece and eastern EU countries are the largest recipients. It's true that Merkel's insistence on austerity created a lot of problems and tensions, but to say the whole bloc is hamstrung by the Germans isn't accurate. Many of Greece's economic woes were self-created. And Portugal, for one, has come out of the recession quite well.

  20. My grandfather and his brothers lost their lives on the russian front in WWII, their father gave his life in WWI on the French-German front. And this is more of a normal European family tree than you‘d think. It really hurts to see fearmongering youngsters like Salvini and di Maio acting without historical conscience in this delicate matter. And there currently seems to be no adult around to stop them.

  21. This is precisely the most important aspect of the EU—preventing the conflicts that nationalism engenders. Europe’s history is a river of blood and what Bannon and Trump and the other populists are ignoring is that war is the culmination of nationalism.

  22. @Vittorio I wrote something just along those lines in the visitors book at Normandy when I visited the beaches and the cemeteries there last summer a couple of days after watching that jaw-dropping Putin-Trump Helsinki press conference in a hotel room in France. These Brexiters, immigrant-phobes, fear-mongerers and anarchists are squandering everything that was earned on those blood-soaked beaches. Where's the respect for all those young lives lost? And Trump is no youngster.

  23. One can only assume that Vladimir Putin loves hearing of developments like this. The space between the interests of the right wing nationalists and those of the Kremlin is small indeed.

  24. Wait until you hear what politicians in Georgia and Texas say about politicians in California and New York! This is a big nothing-burger.

  25. @James It's not a "nothing-burger" (it's a something-burger?) ...but it would be kinda fun to have ambassadors between U.S.'s states.

  26. James, Georgia or Texas can't declare war on California. France and Italy could escalate into a war. This is more than a nothing burger, it is serious and needs to be closely monitored. Hopefully the U.N. can step in and help them solve their conflict.

  27. @D Selig “France and Italy could escalate into a war.” Seriously???

  28. Complicated. Italy is depressed financially and is on the frontline of the migration problem. The Berlin-Paris Dual Monarchy is getting a bit tiresome, it seems, for Italians too-not just for The Brexiteers. I am starting to wonder if the EU will suddenly fall apart. I say that seriously. Of course, that would be a massive strategic win for Russia.

  29. You forgot to say that Mr. Macron called Italian politicians “populist plague and lepory” in the first weeks of new Italian administration. Mr. Macron was to the foresta to insult Italian Government.

  30. yeah I am not sure that happened... even if it did, now we know he was right to do so.

  31. The last time a populist was at the head of the government in Italy things did not work out so well. Unfortunately these populists are either ignorant of their country's own history or think its a good idea to whip up misplaced popular grievances for their own benefit. The road from a populist to facist and despotism usually follows the same formula : 1. You need a widespread grievance that can be easily exploited (ie. unemployment), 2. You need a group of "others" to blame (ie. immigrants or a small ethnic group within the country), 3. You get a populist who is charismatic (or simply famous) to whip up citizen frustration against the group you are blaming and treat it as a focal point, 4) The populist comes up with an easy solution or fix to the problem (ie. build a wall to keep Mexicans out), and then 5) The populist convinces enough people that only he can fix the problem and that anyone who says otherwise is actually part of the problem, and finally 6) The populist consolidates and maintains his power by reverting to measures (adopting legislation and use of force) far outside the norm that any reasonable politician would consider extreme (such as declaring an emergency where one doesn't exist). This is how all facist dictators come to power.

  32. @Trento Cloz Dear Trento Cloz, I agree, but so far no one, your #3, has emerged. The thing that keeps Europe and the EU in one piece is that in general, their politicians have not been able to amass a "Euro" following. They are loved or hated locally, but none are loved beyond the borders of their own countries.

  33. I know this is a little off topic, but I hope at some point certain Democrats stop pointing to Europe as a solution to all our problems. It's a mess that hasn't imploded yet due to the lingering existential fear of everyone killing each other. That fear seems to diminishing year after year. Throw in issues of diversity through migration that they have sidestepped, and it's a powder keg.

  34. The world we know is dying from a problem we are not allowed to discuss. Like a crippling family scandal that remains unaddressed we are supposed to make small talk and point our fingers at convenient scapegoats. (over-population... from patriarchy)

  35. So someone from the EU will sit these two down, explain the importance of the “European project,“ and provide them a copy of the Liberal Democracy rules book that governs acceptable European behaviors. Problem papered over, problem solved the European way!

  36. @NJ resident As many actually "leftist" commentators have pointed out, the EU, the euro, the European Central Bank (and then also the IMF and the World Bank) amount to: class warfare by other means. The "gilets jaunes" know this because they have been living it.

  37. all this makes me think of similar problems Europe faced in the 1930's... people taking advantage of the proles' anger, extremist leaders trying to abolish democracy...

  38. Italian politicians want to ride the wave of 'yellow gilets' for the May European elections. But in reality Italian people do not know anything about the French 'yellow gilets', nor their reasons and motivations.

  39. To be fair to the Italians, even most French deeply dislike their President these days. His approval ratings make Trump's look stellar by comparison, and there have been riots in France for months.

  40. @Edmund Langdown Actually Trump has dropped to 37% and Macron has risen to 34%. Mind you , they’re only facts.

  41. “The European Union should sanction France and all those European countries that are impoverishing Africa.” I agree. UK and France still have lot of control over their former colonies.

  42. In this case France will win over time if they just manage to prevent Italians from crossing the border without genuine proof of vaccination. Di Maio's party spent years weakening the health of their own voters from childhood up by their anti-vaxxer tactics. But gee whiz, reality's a corrective. The expected result of pushing lies about vaccines? Big outbreak of diseases they could have been protected from. This quote surprised me. I didn't think medical workers were so foolish. "Of 100 health workers who contracted the measles virus in Italy last year, 83 had not been vaccinated, Massimo Galli, Professor at Simit, the Italian Institute for Infectious and Tropical Diseases, told The Local Italy. "It is therefore absolutely unacceptable that a healthcare provider is not protected and consequently does not protect their patients, preventing the spread of infection," he said."

  43. Just worth noting that while Italy's behaviour is ridiculous and inflammatory for the sake of spin- France are well known to manipulate the African CFA and virtually imperialize the currency markets there. Its not just a matter of printing. Chimamamda Ngozi Adichie has commented on it before as well as Ndongo Samba Sylla for LSE. They also have a habit of promoting the use of French in the former colonies to a fault (huge money was for a time going into the DRC for this). But I'm not sure that's had any negative effect. Italy at the very least tend to leave Eritrea alone (As does every nation really)

  44. From this otherwise confusing story, one thing is clear: these reporters despise "populists" -- meaning, apparently, everything and anything from right-wing anti-immigrant forces to the French yellow-vest movement over wages, taxes and political representation. Meanwhile Macron is a"self-proclaimed progressive", according to these reporters. What words are these? Or have words ceased to mean anything, when establishment arrangements are under attack? Will American journalists be the last to the party of ongoing reality?

  45. "Populist" appears to be synonymous with"jerk".

  46. Spend your vacation dollars in France instead of Italy, if you were planning a trip to Italy. Seems as though they have become nostalgic for Mussolini

  47. Putin laughs while the West continues to demoralize and descend into unwashed mob rule.

  48. The French are not without blame, particularly in the migrant department. But, as everyone knows, the Italians have a special gift for melodramatic — and self-defeating — stupidity.

  49. Donald J. Trump syndrome is affecting politics worldwide. Italy has been a political and economic basket case for the past 60 yrs but this new crop of brash, openly idiotic Trump wannabes will be the death nail of the country and all others who elect Trump wannabes.

  50. Putin’s having another good day.

  51. What's next? An archduke gets assassinated in Sarajevo? All aggrieved and sulky parties should remember: It can be worse. Much worse. So just shut up and go home.

  52. "...self-proclaimed progressive spirit of Mr. Macron" HaHa!

  53. Meanwhile, Americans are consumed with outrage over yearbook pictures and costume parties held 40 years ago...the politics of me-too-ism and victimization go on and's a comic opera all right, but the comedy is getting rather dark...

  54. I've loved Italy all my life. Got a Master's in Modern Italian History, got an MBA Milan, worked there for 7 yrs, and return regularly. I witnessed the period known as "Tangentopoli". and saw the demise of the Christian Democrats and the rise of Berlusconi and other events over the past 35 years and above all love the country and it's people. However, one thing that I have NEVER loved is the Italian political class. Alas, Italians don't enter politics with any desire to make the lives of ALL Italians better. No, the system is formulated to benefit small cliques, thanks to a voting system that allows oversized influence for small parties with narrow agendas, making it impossible to accomplish the systemic changes to the way Italy is governed which would allow it to be brought into the modern world. People blame the Catholic Church. They used to blame Communists and unions. They blame an ineffective and overblown Civil Service but they never blame THEMSELVES for foregoing "self" and not putting the country first. The individual has always been cherished in Italy and this has given Italians the earned honor of being the most creative culture in history. Look at the art, architecture, cuisine and music! But politics in Italy is a disjointed affair, and this reaching out to the "Yellow Vests" in France is a malicious distraction meant to destabilize and nothing more. Shame on Italian politicians for this intrusion into French affairs and lack of attention to their own.

  55. Le petit neapolitain Vs. le petit Napoleon. They both are trying to catch votes for the upcoming European election. A French politician defined the the Italian populist coalition as something that makes him trow up. Vice Prime Minister Di Maio went to speak with the gillet jaune leaders, a semi violent movement with an undefined agenda that forced the French Govt to call in the army. Not nice, as Donald would say. Tension between France and Italy have being going on for a while, mostly on the economic side. This populist govt of ours , should be reminded that our export surplus with France is well above 10 billions (with a b) Euros. To create such tension with a recession (both Italian and European) knocking at the door is simply crazy if not suicidal, because it puts at risk thousands of jobs. France in the hand is by now a country in a deep crisis of institutional, economic and political nature All countries have a populist party these days, Italy managed to have two, one for the North and one for the South. The tensions in their strange coalition (Lega.Five stars ) is rooted especially in this aspect. They can not manage Italy endemic problem of a two speed country. I foresee the problem dramatically exploding soon. How can you keep together a country that in many areas of the North has the GNP similar to Germany and in many areas of the South has the GNP of Greece ? Well may be we should start with politicians with a vision not with votes seeking improvisers.

  56. France does indeed have a neo-colonial empire that is designed to keep Africa impoverished and dependent on France. France takes their resources for pennies on the dollar, pays off the ultra-corrupt local rulers, and as a result, the countries never develop. This endemic lack of development is fueling overpopulation, which is paid for by Italy, Greece, and Spain, who must bear the brunt the migrant crisis. France, meanwhile, until recently, was getting away with this scam scot-free. France is directly fueling the migrant crisis by creating conditions in Africa that lead to migration. The Italians have a legitimate case against France and Macron here. Italy can't afford to take in migrants when its youth unemployment rate is at 30%. 30%! And they need to bend over backwards to let foreigners take those jobs that are left? How long do you think that policy is going to be sustainable? This is why you delusional globalists are not long for the world.

  57. Dear POE, you should now that the very "sovranist" leaders who in Italy advocate the closing of ports to the migrants are also going to allow their regions (the richest ones) to keep their entire budget. This will further impoverish the South of Italy where most unemployed use to live, with the caveat that the 30% figure as well needs to be qualified against the murky reality of the Italian work market.

  58. Frankly this is a ridiculous chapter totally in tune with the comedic yet tragic storytelling of Italy’s shameful past false populism that ended in the tragic invasions of Greece and African adventurism. No, Italy is not nor will it be the powerhouse of Europe till its leaders learn to play as part of a team and certainly Italy could only be an economic Basket-case outside of the Euro and the EU. Populism will only put lipstick on a pig, and won’t fix the many structural problems it confronts.

  59. All of these "anti-establishment" politicians sprouting up in the west taking advantage of people's anger have all had the benefit of having come to power in a relatively crisis free world claiming they had all the answers to everyone's problems. Thinking back to the economic crisis of 2008, I couldn't imagine Trump, Salvini, or a Brexiter having the faintest clue of how to steer us out the way previous world leaders did in order to avoid a second great depression. Trump, Salvini, and Brexiters can't find their way out of a paper bag in relatively normal times, so it's scary to think what would happen if a world crisis hit. They would all buckle under the weight of their own incompetence and ignorence, surely pointing blame at someone else, even though they themselves caused it.

  60. @Chi-Town Guy, they are taking advantage of the anger felt at the Reaganomics that has brought the European social project grinding to a halt.

  61. ...and now a recession starts in Germany, the only country who is helped by being in the EU. Brexit is the first domino but the rest are sure to follow. A united Europe is and has always been a fallacy.

  62. @Randy Get your facts straight. There is no recession at this moment in Germany. The last quarter of growth was positive. Italy, on the other hand, has had two quarters of negative growth and therefore is in a "recession". But even then I'd call it a very mild recession at that. And the whole EU would be doing better if it were not for the one-offs from Italian politics, yellow-vests, and auto emission checks..

  63. @Stuart Stanley - Reuters reported from Berlin today that German industrial output unexpectedly fell in December for the fourth consecutive month. "Analysts said the fall makes it more likely that the economy contracted in the fourth quarter, which would translate into a recession after growth domestic product fell in the third quarter," the Reuters story says.

  64. @Randy, I am always intrigued why a united Europe might be labelled a fallacy. Are a united Germany, France or Italy fallacies? In fact they're almost entirely constructs of the nineteenth century and lot of effort made in ensuring conformity and communication in the language of the state. A united Europe built in the ideology of shared peace and prosperity might be a lot more pleasant than a state that likes our identities so long as we wear clogs and dance.

  65. We in Italy are currently ruled by a bunch of unspeakable people. Period. Many Italians voted for them, and that is the really sad side of the story. That said, in the last two decades the governments of most European countries, no matter whether founders or newcomers from the eastern part of the continent, have behaved as Europe were not an ideal to fight for, but rather a giant opportunity to serve national interests (France and Germany inclusively). Salvini and Di Maio -- the prime minister Conte does not play any role -- are awkwardly exploiting the disappointment generated by that mixture of opportunism and immobilism that has spoiled Europe since the beginning of the century. Both vice prime ministers will soon fail, and Italy with them. Europe needs courage. Helmut Kohl had courage, no matter what polls were saying. Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev are having it now. We strongly need people like them.

  66. Apparently, a bewildered Ingrid Levavasseur, first name on the European Yellow Vest list, categorically denies Christophe Chalençon being Yellow Vests' spokesperson. "I came to know about the meeting - which I objected to - at the eleventh hour" she declares, adding: "It is horrible, a total usurpation, a plundering of all our work. It is a sharks world that is gaining access at the core of our project. Truly terrible." It looks to me the Five Star Movement's main exponent is gradually submitting his political platform to more extremist tendencies within the populists. It remains to be seen whether a steady shifting to the far right will truly represent Five Star Movement's multifaceted essence coming next election in May.

  67. Wait. Don't unload on our POTUS. If anything - he actually has stuck to business - like pay, pay and pay for your own defense - perhaps, undiplomatic language but very American. I share sentiments below that Europe is unraveling before our own eyes. At least Italians did not say that French wine is no good with Italian pasta - any time. Boy, that will be a real war. No telling what Britain and it's politicians would start saying once it is out of EU - especially about leaders of France and Germany. I can't wait to see insults flying in both directions. For a political junkie like me - we are living in very interesting times.

  68. Yellow Vest protesters have a lot to protest. When the straw that broke the camel's back landed, it created yet another way the French left-behinds were victimized by the government. Regressive taxes always land hardest on those least able to pay them. A public transport rate hike, a rise in the sales tax all hit the poor hardest. When the price of gas goes too high, we hear plenty of bellyaching. So we should be feeling common cause with Yellow Vest protesters. If Occupy Wall Street had been as well-organized as the Yellow Vests, something positive might have been achieved.