Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, has called France’s government “aggressive” and “incomprehensible” after it criticised Italy for refusing to let a migrant vessel dock.
Italy recently accepted three Non-Governmental Organisation boats rescuing migrants crossing from Libya after blocking them for some time.
It also announced France had agreed to welcome another ship, the Ocean Viking. But reports suggest French authorities had not actually agreed to a deal.
The announcement that France had agreed to take in the Ocean Viking drew cheers from Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, who rejoiced that “the air has changed”. Hungary’s far-right leader, Viktor Orban, thanked Ms. Meloni for “protecting Europe’s borders”. In Paris, Italy’s public announcement is being seen as a way of forcing it into accepting the boat.
French Interior Minister, GéraldDarmanin, said France would exceptionally let the Ocean Viking dock – with the ship arriving in Toulon on Friday morning.
But he described Italy’s actions as reprehensible and selfish, warning of “very serious consequences”.
In a press conference on Friday, Ms. Meloni said she was struck by France’s “aggressive reaction” which she also described as unjustified.
The comments come amid an increasingly explosive war of words between the two European Union members over migration, on which Italy’s new right-wing government has vowed to clamp down.
France has now suspended an agreement to take in 3,500 migrants relocated from Italy, urged other European Union (EU) members to do the same and tightened controls on its borders with Italy.
Ms. Meloni has warned it would not be “intelligent” for the EU to isolate Italy.
She stressed that her country had taken in almost 90,000 migrants this year, while Ocean Viking, with 234 on board, was the first NGO rescue boat that France had ever accepted.
“The situation cannot continue this way,” she added, saying that France’s reaction had betrayed a lack of European solidarity.
The unequal burden-sharing of migration has long caused friction within the EU, and Italy, Greece and Spain have argued that they cannot be expected to shoulder the weight.Domestic politics has also fed into the row – on both sides of the border. -BBC