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The recall of the French ambassador to Italy. Between Paris and Rome, a dangerous game? (V2)

(B2) France recalls its ambassador to Rome for consultations. The Quai d'Orsay (the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs) announced this in a communicated Thursday February 7. A strong gesture. Even in situations of extreme tension, we had not experienced such reactions. A justified reaction? Or are there other motivations behind it?

The Farnese Palace is the seat of the French embassy in Italy (credit: Amb. France Rome)

Unacceptable interference

Reason for the anger: the recent declarations of Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had already prompted a summons from the Italian ambassador to Paris, the trip of the other Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio to Montargis, among the yellow vests, caused further anger. This trip, which was not the subject of any official warning, as European propriety usually requires, and led to the recall of the French ambassador Christian Masset, well known to European interlocutors (1).

« The latest interference constitutes an additional and unacceptable provocation. They violate the respect due to the democratic choice, made by a friendly and allied people. They violate the respect that democratically and freely elected governments owe each other. The campaign for the European elections cannot justify the lack of respect for each people or its democracy. All these acts create a serious situation which questions the intentions of the Italian government vis-à-vis its relationship with France. »

« Having disagreements is one thing, instrumentalizing the relationship for electoral purposes is another. adds the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A dangerous game

The comments of the Italian ministers are obviously outrageous and provocative. But these are just words, opinions, with which we can disagree. Luigi Di Maio's trip to France to support the yellow vests is indeed quite original and provocative (2). But it intervenes in a specific context: the European elections. It does not intervene in national elections. By raising its voice, the French government is in fact playing the game of the Italian provocateurs. A dangerous game which is more likely to flatter the nationalists on both sides than to calm things down.

A European campaign or national campaigns

Crossed support between members of certain parties across borders is regular. In 2017, German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel wished Emmanuel Macron to win. Nobody protested. In the same way, much less loudly, the special correspondents of La République en Marche attempt, more discreetly it is true, to poach political parties in Europe to bring them back into the fold of a center right/left party, for the next European elections.

A tactic, politician, of confrontation

Both the French and Italian governments, in fact, like to inflame these differences and the exchange of 'sweet nothings'. It is Emmanuel Macron's idea to have a confrontation between “progressives” and “sovereignists”. Idea shared by Italian leaders, Matteo Salvini in the lead. A divide that the French president deliberately maintains in order to replay at the European level in 2019 what he achieved at the French level during the 2017 presidential elections. The objective is to break down any alternative, to force those who do not want a victory for the sovereignists or the national right to rally behind the banner of La République en Marche, and to break up the Christian-democrat, social-democrat, environmentalist or left-wing families. It is in this context that we must place France's strong diplomatic gesture. A position, certainly intelligent, but which remains a political and even political tactic, rather than a strategy. Using diplomacy for electoral purposes is dangerous.

Several elements, objectives, of the Franco-Italian estrangement

Beyond the sensitive epidermis, there are three deep differences between Paris and Rome which explain, on both sides of Italy, these barbs sent from both sides. Firstly, the migration crisis, where Italy claims to have done the 'job' and not to have received the necessary help from Europeans, particularly from neighboring France. A feeling that transcends political affinities beyond Nice. Secondly, the Libyan conflict, where Italy (which rather supports Tripoli) and France (which rather supports Haftar) are in frontal conflict, the first defending its historical position and the second seeking to take positions, in a country full of oil (3). Finally, equity investments such as Fincantieri in STX were perceived with reluctance, even hostilely, by Paris (read: The takeover of the Atlantic shipyards by Fincantieri under the magnifying glass of the Commission). Clouds are gathering over the Franco-Italian relationship. It would be time to resolve them.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)


Is the recall of ambassadors between European countries a first?

No. Contrary to what has been said, recalling ambassadors is not an unknown practice between European countries. Read : The recall of ambassadors: a practice that is becoming widespread in Europe

Could Paris forbid the arrival of the Italian leader?

Yes, if we rely on the case law of the Court of Justice of the EU which has already ruled on a case between two European states (Slovakia and Hungary), France could prohibit the arrival in France of Luigi di Maio, provided you know it in advance (2). Read : Can a European leader travel as he wishes in Europe? The Luigi di Maio case


  1. Christian Masset was notably deputy permanent representative to the EU (from 2002 to 2007) after having been a member of Hubert Védrine's cabinet.
  2. What seems to anger Paris above all is that Luigi Di Maio did not see fit to warn the French authorities. What seems surprising is that the government was not informed of this visit by other means. L. Di Maio is however adept at this type of surprise visits, as he proved in Strasbourg during the plenary session in January.
  3. The organization in La Celle St Cloud in the summer of 2017 of an intra-Libyan meeting testifies to this political rivalry at the highest level (read: Libyan enemy brothers agree on a more peaceful path (La Celle St Cloud))

Completed paper on the recall of ambassadors

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

One thought on “The recall of the French ambassador to Italy. Between Paris and Rome, a dangerous game? (V2)"

  • Jacques FAYETTE

    For once I disagree with your analysis. That one of the political leaders of a European party comes to support a candidate of his family in another country, it is quite normal. That a vice-president of government comes on the sly to support demonstrators during a meeting where insults are pronounced against the President of the Republic with the “Macron resignation” is a different thing; This is the analysis made by Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament. Now this French position is bearing fruit, the condemnation of Di Maio is unanimous, it does the business of the Lega, let's wait until Sunday to see if the voters of Abruzzo lean one way or the other.

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