EU at war: How Italy ‘verbal attack’ sparked diplomatic row with France

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This was evident when France and Italy entered a diplomatic crisis in February 2019, provoked by Italian Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio meeting representatives of the French Gilets Jaunes (yellow vest) protest movement. Di Maio expressed his support for the demonstrators as they prepared to stand candidates in the European Parliament elections. The group are prominent critics of French President Emmanuel Macron – and caught headlines with their protests in Paris which started in 2018.

The movement saw demonstrators hit out at fuel taxes initially, but this anger broadened to other issues.

The lower middle classes in France opposed Mr Macron as they saw him as a “president of the rich” and perceived him as being out of touch.

The Italian PM’s backing caused fury in Paris, as Macron pulled his country’s ambassador out of Rome.

He even accused the Italian government of making verbal attacks “without precedent since World War II.”

While Di Maio’s actions were the straw that broke the camel’s back, tensions between Rome and Paris had already been growing.

Disputes over corporate takeovers, policy towards Libya, and an exhibition for Leonardo Da Vinci’s works had all seen the countries come to disagreement.

The European elections didn’t just see France clash with Italy, but also with Germany.

During the buildup to the bloc-wide vote last year, Der Tagesspiegel reported that Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party was using verbal attacks against Angela Merkel as part of its campaign.

The report added that Mr Macron’s colleagues were “mobilising against the Chancellor”.

La Republique En Marche (LREM)’s top candidate for the EU elections, Nathalie Loiseau, criticised Mrs Merkel and her government for its approach to talks between Brussels and Washington, where Mrs Merkel insisted on getting pending US special tariffs on car imports off the table.

Former Europe Minister Loiseau also surprised everyone with her choice of words before the crucial EU decision was adopted.

According to AFP, she told representatives of small and medium-sized companies that “there are some European leaders who will soon leave political life. This leads to caution, not boldness”.

This appeared to be a swipe at the German Chancellor, who announced 12 months earlier she would not continue in her role beyond 2021.

At the time, Paris and Berlin had disagreements when it came to party politics in European elections.

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It was reported at the time that LREM representatives, together with parliamentarians from other countries, were planning to form their own group or join the European Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) group.

Germany’s ruling parties, the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Socialists (CSU), are the driving forces behind the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), the biggest group in the Parliament.

The subtle swipes proved fruitless for both Merkel and Macron’s parties in the vote however.

Last May, President Macron’s party were dealt a damning message in France’s European Elections.

Marine Le Pen and her far right National Rally secured victory in the vote, asserting themselves as Mr Macron’s main opposition in the country.

The nationalist party topped the polls with 23 percent of the vote, less than one point ahead of Mr Macron’s centrist grouping on 22 percent.

Mrs Merkel’s party and its coalition partner won a combined 28.7 percent of the vote, down 7 points from the previous vote in 2014.

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