France’s Macron looks to overcome Italy row, warns against nationalism

March 3, 2019

ROME (Reuters) – French President Emmanuele Macron, warning against the dangers of resurgent nationalism, said on Sunday that France and Italy needed to overcome their recent diplomatic clash and work together again for the good of Europe.

Ties between the traditionally close allies have grown increasingly tense since mid-2018, with Italy’s Deputy Prime Ministers Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini firing verbal pot-shots at Macron and his government, mostly over migration.

France briefly recalled its ambassador to Rome last month in protest, but Macron told state Italian television RAI that the two nations had shared interests that needed to be nurtured.

“There was a misunderstanding. The most recent upset is not serious as far as I am concerned and we must get over it,” Macron said in an interview with RAI.

While Macron has promoted an avowedly pro-EU program, Di Maio and Salvini have regularly denounced the European Union, saying it has grown distant from ordinary citizens and sucked away too much power from national governments.

Far-right parties like Salvini’s League have grown in strength across the continent and are expected to chalk up major gains in European parliamentary elections at the end of May.

Macron said EU member states needed to shun nationalism and instead had to work together to resolve myriad problems, such as mass immigration from Africa and economic slowdowns.

“There are people who defend nationalism, who want to fight our Europe. Me, I will fight these people with force, because I think they will … make us lose 10 years, 20 years by dragging us back to (old) divisions,” he said.

He also called on the Italian government to drop its objections to a planned high-speed rail link being built between the French city of Lyon and Italy’s Turin and let the multi-billion-euro project proceed.

The so-called TAV line has been delayed for months because Di Maio’s 5-Star Movement opposes it on environmental and cost grounds. By contrast, coalition partner the League backs the venture.

“This is very important for the cross-border regions and is long-awaited. A choice was made by our predecessors, things were signed and commitments made, which we support,” Macron said, adding that modern technologies could overcome environmental problems.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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