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An Angry, "Irritated" Italy Loses Patience With Macron Over Migrants, Libya

One week after the latest Ifop poll showed that French president Macron's approval rating tumbled by 10 points in his third month, with only Jacques Chirac sliding more from his May 1995 election to July of that year according to Journal du Dimanche...

... the young president's troubles are spilling outside France's borders, and as VoA reports, even as Merkel's political infatuation with Macron grows by the day, Italy is quickly falling out of love with Macron as  irritation with France’s president is mounting in Rome. At the center of the rising tensions is Italy displeasure with how Europe is handling the country's refugee crisis: tensions have crept into diplomatic relations between France and the government of Paolo Gentiloni, prompted by Macron’s response to Italian pleas for more European assistance with the mainly sub-Saharan migrants crossing the Mediterranean in record numbers and his largely uncoordinated diplomatic intervention in the past week over the Libya crisis.

On Tuesday, Macron oversaw a meeting in Paris of the leaders of two of war-torn Libya’s rival factions to discuss a political power-sharing deal to reunite the fractured north African country.


President Macron meets Italian PM Paolo at the Elysee Palace in Paris, May 21, 2017

Italy is furious that the meeting between the head of the U.N.-backed government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj  - which has failed to assert authority even in the Libyan capital Tripoli - and General Khalifa Haftar - a warlord who largely controls the east of the lawless country - was not coordinated with the Italian government. As a result, Gentiloni’s ministers took the unusual step of openly criticizing the French president this week, voicing frustrations with Macron’s efforts, which they argue distract from a coordinated U.N. and European Union effort to engineer a political deal in Libya between three rival governments and dozens of militias. 

“There are too many open formats in Libya, too many mediators, too many initiatives,” Italy’s foreign minister, Angelino Alfano, told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Alfano and other ministers have been dismissive of the progress the Elysee Palace claimed to have made in the search for a deal in Libya. According to the French government, al-Sarraj and Haftar have committed to a cease-fire as well as to a continued political dialogue in an effort to achieve national reconciliation. The Italians also believe that Macron has fallen into a trap set by General Haftar, who has refused to accept the legitimacy of Fayez al-Sarraj’s government. Italian officials complain that the Macron-brokered meeting helps to legitimize Haftar, whom they see as a warlord and a strongman-in-the-making.

Separately, officials in the Italian capital say Italy is far more of a "front-line" state when it comes to Libya and suffers more immediate impact than France when it comes to political developments on the other side of the Mediterranean, which is why they have been infuriate by France's brash overtures to take the lead on political negotiations with the civil war-torn state, and have also accused Macron of brashness in waiving off Italian objections, arguing he’s being too high-handed.

It isn't just Italy.

Accusations of Macron's high-handedness were also echoed in France, on his approach to a range of issues, domestic and foreign, with one retired general, Vincent Desportes, accusing Macron of “juvenile authoritarianism.”

As VoA adds, Macron’s Libya diplomacy is just one irritant in increasingly tension-filled Franco-Italian relations, in which Macron has been also accused of duplicity and hypocrisy in his diplomatic conduct with Italy. In May, after meeting Gentiloni in Paris, Macron announced: “we have not listened enough to Italy’s cry for help on the migration crisis.” But Macron’s position since hasn’t changed much from Francois Hollande, his predecessor in the Elysee Palace, to the Italian government’s rising anger.

Aside from Libya, an even more pressing issue for Italy has been the ongoing pleas for burden-sharing when it comes to the country's migrant wave, pelase which have so far fallen on deaf ears among other EU nations. Meanwhile, Italy’s refugee centers and shelters have reached their capacity of 200,000. So far this year nearly 100,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya — a 17 percent increase over the same period last year — and with months more of good weather, another 100,000 asylum seekers are likely to land at Italian ports.

Pointing the finger explicitly at Paris, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, this month complained, “it doesn’t seem like France wants to help us concretely.”

Italy has reason to be angry: French police have been blocking hundreds of migrants on the Italian side of the border at Ventimiglia from entering France; the French government is refusing to allow asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean from landing at French ports and, like nearly every other EU country, France hasn’t come anywhere near meeting its quota of migrants as agreed to under a 2015 EU refugee relocation scheme, even as the EU sues to force Poland, Hungary And Czech Republic to accept more refugees.

Adding insult to injury, earlier in July, Macron talked of distinguishing between war refugees and economic migrants, indicating that France won't admit any asylum-seekers who are just escaping poverty and hunger. But that doesn’t help Italy as it tries to cope with a mounting influx of mainly economic migrants, who, under EU rule, it has little alternative but to admit, at least for processing and to save lives.

Paris has also scorned an Italian proposal for an EU military mission to monitor and interdict migrants along Libya’s southern border. Italians question why a large French military mission in Niger isn't being used to disrupt migrant trafficking when it is right by the main route being used by smugglers and would-be asylum seekers traveling north.

Last month, the European Parliament’s most senior left-wing politician, Italian Gianni Pittella, launched a scathing attack on Macron after French police frogmarched back into Italy more than 100 migrants who’d crossed into France.

“The situation is shameful. Italy and the Italians are being abandoned, they’re being expected to deal with all these migrants on their own with no support,” he said.

And even as he loses the support of Europe's periphery, and certainly the nation which recently surpassed Germany as the largest sovereign debtor in Europe, for now Macron's precarious political stance is propped up - if only in the diplomatic arena - by Angela Merkel's (so far) unquestioned admiration and support. Should Macron lose that, however, it may be time to start worrying about the next French presidential election.