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France won't enter a 'stupidity contest' with Italy: minister

Attacks by Italian politicians on France's leadership do nothing to help the Italian people and have no effect on French politics, says France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau
Attacks by Italian politicians on France's leadership do nothing to help the Italian people and have no effect on French politics, says France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau POOL/AFP
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Paris (AFP)

Paris will not be drawn into a "stupidity contest" with the populist government of Italy, where officials have launched several verbal attacks on President Emmanuel Macron, France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau said Wednesday.

"Our intention is not to have a stupidity contest," Loiseau said, indicating that the government would not wage a war of words or otherwise seek to retaliate against Rome.

But working meetings and visits between the two countries are largely out of the question for now, she added.

"There are several things we need to do with our important neighbour Italy, and we want to continue to be able to work together," Loiseau said.

"Does that mean the current environment permits ministerial visits as if nothing has happened? I will go to Italy once things have settled down," she said.

Tensions have flared between the two countries since the Five Star Movement and far-right League party came to power in a coalition in Italy last June.

Macron targeted the populist government specifically last year as he sought to form a pro-Europe alliance of parties ahead of European Parliament elections in May, raising the hackles of politicians in Rome.

On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio accused Paris of fuelling the migrant influx to Europe by continuing to "colonise" Africa.

That prompted France to summon Italy's ambassador in protest over Di Maio's comments that "the EU should sanction France and all countries like France that impoverish Africa and make these people leave".

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini poured fuel on the fire Tuesday by referring to Macron and saying he hoped French voters would soon free themselves from a "terrible president".

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, said in a Facebook video that he felt "close, with all my heart... to the French people, the millions of men and women who live in France under a terrible government and terrible president".

Di Maio and Salvini have also voiced support for the "yellow vest" protesters who have been demonstrating against Macron's government since November.

Macron himself said last year that European populist leaders including Salvini were right to see him as their "main opponent," denouncing in particular Italy's hardline stance on refusing migrants.

But in recent months French officials have largely refused to respond to the provocative statements.

"Do (such comments) help the Italian people, or contribute to their well-being? I don't think so," Loiseau said Wednesday.

"Have they had any influence on the political situation in France? I don't think that's the case either."

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