France’s Emmanuel Macron speaks with Italy’s Sergio Mattarella to defuse dispute

France withdrew its ambassador from Rome last week after row with populist Italian ministers

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks with President of the Movement for the Defence of Farming Families Jean Mouzat during a meeting at The Elysee Palace in Paris on February 11, 2019.   / AFP / POOL / Ian LANGSDON
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French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian President Sergio Mattarella spoke on Tuesday evening after France last week withdrew its ambassador from Rome following what it saw as meddling in its internal affairs by an Italian minister.

France called its ambassador back to Paris for consultations last week after Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, without properly informing either his own or the French government, visited members of the Yellow Vests protest movement in France and offered his support.

The incident followed months of spats between Mr Macron and members of Italy’s populist government. Mr Macron once called the parties in Italy’s government “lepers” while Italy’s other deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, said Mr Macron was a “bad president” who ought to resign.

Mr Macron and Mr Mattarella “reaffirmed the importance of French-Italian relations for each country” and “recalled that France and Italy, who together built Europe, have a particular responsibility to work together to defend and relaunch the European Union,” the French presidency said.

Unlike France’s executive presidency, Italy’s president is largely a figurehead. This has not stopped Mr Mattarella from clashing with Mr Di Maio and Mr Salvini over European and economic policy.