France - Italy

Migrants at top of the agenda as Macron meets Conte in Rome

Alberto Pizzoli, AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte shake hands after holding a joint press conference following their meeting on September 18, 2019, at Palazzo Chigi in Rome.

How Europe can better manage migrants was slated to be a key topic of discussion when Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte and French President Emmanuel Macron meet in Rome on Wednesday night.


The Italian government has been demanding that fellow European Union countries routinely accept some share of the migrants that charity-run boats rescue in the Mediterranean Sea.

Conte's efforts to secure more support from other EU leaders on immigration and refugees could go more smoothly since anti-migrant League party leader Matteo Salvini abandoned the premier's first coalition government.

As interior minister, Salvini banned rescue vessels run by aid groups from bringing migrants to Italian ports.

The left-leaning Democrats replaced the League in Conte's new, two-week-old coalition government, whose senior partner is the populist 5-Star Movement.

France has pushed for the EU to show solidarity with Italy by adopting a system that determines what happens to migrants after sea rescues.

A meeting next week in Malta of the interior ministers for Italy, France and some other countries may provide a test of whether ringing appeals by political leaders can be turned into concrete policies for stable European cooperation on migration.

During several standoffs over where rescued migrants would end up, a handful of often the same EU member nations, including France and Germany, offered to take a share of those stranded on aid organization vessels that weren't allowed to disembark passengers in Italy.

French-Italian diplomatic relations sunk to perhaps the lowest point since World War II earlier this year over a perceived affront to Macron's government. The insult involved 5-Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio meeting with French activists who were galvanizing the anti-government yellow vest demonstrations.

France recalled its ambassador from Rome for several days to protest what it viewed as Italian meddling in French domestic politics.

Di Maio, then a deputy premier in Conte's first government, sought to tamp down speculation the 5-Star Movement wanted to have alliances with more extreme or violent wings of the French movement.

Di Maio, who in the past made euroskeptic comments, is foreign minister in Conte's new government.

Macron and Italian President Sergio Mattarella both stressed their countries' responsibility to work together to defend and revitalize the European Union once the spat over Di Maio's action subsided.


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