Matteo Salvini, Italy’s opinionated deputy PM, said that he hopes the French people can rid themselves of the “terrible” leadership of President Emmanuel Macron. Salvini’s jibe is the latest salvo in an ongoing feud with Paris.
“I hope that the French will be able to free themselves from a terrible president,” the populist leader said in a Facebook video posted on Tuesday. “The opportunity will come on May 26 [the European Parliament elections] when finally the French people will be able to take back control of its future, destiny, pride, which are poorly represented by a character like Macron.”
While French voters will not be exactly replacing Macron in the upcoming elections, his En Marche! movement is expected to lose ground to right-wing rival Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party. The more nationalists France sends to the European Parliament, the bigger the blow to Macron’s Europhilic ambitions, which include sharing of sovereignty with France’s neighbors and an EU army.
Speaking in Poland earlier this month, Salvini called on fellow nationalists to take part in a “renaissance of European values” to bring an end to the “German-French axis” on the continent. The elections, he said, are a chance to steer away from a Europe “run by bureaucrats.”
Macron’s situation at home is precarious. The president, who once described his aloof style of rule as “Jupiterian,” has faced an outpouring of public anger from the Gillets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement. Protests that began as a response to a fuel tax hike evolved into a broad rejection of his economic policies, and thousands of rioters have been arrested in ten consecutive weekends of unrest.
Salvini has cheered on the protests. “I support honest citizens who protest against a governing president [who is] against his people,” he said earlier this month. Salvini’s coalition partner, Luigi Di Maio of the Five-Star Movement (M5S) added that politics in Europe “has become deaf to the needs of citizens who have been kept out of the most important decisions affecting the people.”
France’s Minister for European Affairs Nathalie Loiseau gave Salvini and Di Maio a telling-off for commenting on her nation’s state of affairs, but in a speech to corporate executives at Versailles on Monday, Macron unexpectedly told the suits that he is willing to reform. Speaking to his guests 226 years to the day since French King Louis XVI was guillotined, Macron said historical leaders who failed to listen to the people “ended up like that.”
However, Macron pledged not to roll back the labor and tax reforms that sparked the Yellow Vest protests, and Salvini and Di Maio poured more criticism on the French leader for his country’s past offenses as well as his present predicament.
“I don’t take lessons on humanity and generosity from Macron,” Salvini said on Monday, before blaming France’s oil interests in Libya for Paris’ alleged lack of interest in “stabilizing the situation” there.
Di Maio blamed France for impoverishing Africa, with the anti-establishment leader reportedly saying on Sunday “In order to keep the Africans in Africa, it would be enough for the French to stay home.”
“If today people are leaving Africa it is because some European countries, with France taking the lead, have never stopped colonizing Africa in their heads,” Di Maio continued, in a rant that reportedly earned Italy’s ambassador to France a summons to explain the comments.
Macron has clashed with the Italians on migration before, with Macron calling Rome’s refusal to pick up migrants from the Mediterranean Sea “sickening,” and “unacceptable.” Salvini in turn called Macron an “international embarrassment,” after French policemen were spotted dropping apprehended migrants off in an Italian forest along the border with France.
Macron and Salvini’s diametrically opposed views on immigration the future of the EU could see this feud drag on up to and beyond the May elections.