France’s foreign ministry on Monday summoned Italy’s ambassador after Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio accused Paris of creating poverty in Africa and fueling mass migration to Europe.
“It’s not the first time the Italian authorities have made unacceptable and aggressive comments,” a French diplomatic source said.
Luigi Di Maio, leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and Italy’s Deputy PM, launched a scathing attack on France, which he argued is to blame for the inherent causes of the ongoing migrant crisis at EU borders.
Di Maio was speaking at a rally on Sunday, when he touched on recent mass migrant drownings in the Mediterranean.
“We would be hypocrites if we just continued to talk about the effects without looking for the causes. If today we have people coming from Africa it’s because some European countries like France never stopped colonizing Africa in their heads,” Di Maio told the crowd.
The politician, who also serves as the minister of economic development, referred to the CFA franc, a currency which is used in 14 former French colonies in West and Central Africa. The currency is guaranteed by the French Treasury and has a fixed rate of exchange with the euro. While it is credited for providing African countries with financial stability, it has often been criticized as a relic of colonial times by proponents of Africa’s full independence from France. They argue that the CFA franc, created in 1945, impedes their economic development as they have no say in French or European monetary policy.
“There are dozens of African states in which France prints its own currency, the franc of the colonies, and with that, it finances the French public debt,” Di Maio said, adding that France should be subjected to sanctions by the EU, and potentially the UN, for “impoverishing those states and triggering those people.”
“The place of Africans is in Africa and not at the bottom of the sea,” he stated.
“If we have people who are leaving Africa now it’s because some European countries, and France in particular, have never stopped colonizing Africa,” said Di Maio, who leads the 5-Star.
“If France didn’t have its African colonies, because that’s what they should be called, it would be the 15th largest world economy. Instead it’s among the first, exactly because of what it is doing in Africa.”
Ambassador Teresa Castaldo was summoned on Monday afternoon by the chief of staff of European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau, the French diplomatic source said.
Di Maio himself refused to back down in the row, telling reporters late Monday that France was manipulating the economies of 14 African countries that use the CFA franc — a colonial-era currency which is underpinned by the French Treasury.
“France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts,” he said.
France argues that the CFA franc has brought welcome monetary stability to the countries that use it, but French President Emmanuel Macron said in 2017 that it was up to African governments to decide what to do with the currency.
The new Italian government has frequently clashed with Paris, be it on immigration or policy in Libya, eager to mark the difference between itself and the previous center-left administration which had good ties with the French authorities.
“I’ve stopped being a hypocrite talking only about the effects of immigration and it’s time to talk about the causes,” Di Maio said at the weekend.
“The EU should sanction all those countries like France that are impoverishing African countries and are causing those people to leave.”