Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron during an informal EU summit on migration at the EU commission in Brussels, June 24, 2018. (Photo: VCG)
ROME, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Relations between Italy and France continued to deteriorate this week, after France recalled its ambassador to Italy and issued a statement comparing relations between the countries to when they were on opposite sides during World War II.
The Italian coalition government headed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has continually clashed with the European Union since taking power last June. And according to Raffaele Marchetti, an international relations professor and director of the Research Unit on Political Risk Analysis at Rome's LUISS University, provoking France has acted as a proxy for that opposition.
The war of words between Rome and Paris started last year, over the issue of immigration. France criticized the Conte government's closed-door immigration policies, while Italy said France had a "colonial" attitude toward Africa and that it should do and pay more to help resolve the problem.
But the high-profile standoff between the two countries -- both among the six founding members of what evolved into the European Union -- reached a new intensity this week.
The spark came when Luigi Di Maio, head of the populist Five-Star Movement and one of Conte's deputy prime ministers, met with anti-government "gilet jaune" (yellow vest) protesters outside of Paris and expressed support for their cause.
The French government of President Emmanuel Macron has been crippled by protests from the growing "gilet jaune" movement since November. The protestors have violently opposed Macron's policy initiatives, often forcing difficult compromises.
Di Maio's remarks in France were in line with a declaration from Matteo Salvini, the other deputy prime minister and leader of the euro-skeptic League, who said last month, "I hope the French will soon be able to free themselves from a terrible president."
"The wind of change has crossed the Alps," the Five-Star Movement's Di Maio said via social media, referring to the anti-establishment sentiment that put the Conte government in power and the mountain range that dominates the border between Italy and France.
Di Maio's statements of support for the movement ended France's months-long attempt to keep the problems at an arm's length.
Within hours of Di Maio's remarks, France recalled ambassador Christian Masset from Rome. It was the first time France withdrew its ambassador in Italy since 1940, just after the country declared war on France in the early days of World War II.
That comparison was not lost on France's Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which issued a statement this week saying relations between the two countries were now worse off than at any point since they were at war with each other more than 75 years ago.
"Italian relations with France have been worsening since 2011, when they had different positions on the future of Libya during the civil war there," Marchetti told Xinhua. "But since the Conte government came into power the situation has worsened. Both sides are scoring political points opposing the other."
According to Oliviero Fiorini, a political analyst with ABS Securities, the crumbling relationship between Italy and France could have wide-ranging implications.
"There is turmoil all over the European Union with Brexit, slow economic growth, rising populism, terrorism," Fiorini said in an interview. "If Italy and France continue their shoving match, it could shake the foundations of the European Union. In the current context I would worry about whether the European Union could even survive in its current form."