ROME « Of course the French’s explanation was inadequate. There are no excuses, their Minister of the Interior said some unbelievable things, whether against Prime Minister Meloni, the Italian government, and even Italy and Italians. Go and have another listen, that’s unheard of. »
What is your explanation?
« I don’t know, he said we are an extreme right-wing government. He compared PM Meloni to Le Pen, out of the blue. I was supposed to go to Paris, to attend a summit that had been in the works for weeks, which was to end with a joint press conference with French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna. »
Darmanin is not new to attacking Italy.
« He isn’t, but back then there was a news item, a communiqué concerning a ship full of migrants. Here, there is nothing to justify or at least explain this attack. It is a gross, uncalled-for insult to a friendly country, an ally whose institutional leadership is in perfect harmony, even in the first year of application of the Quirinal Treaty. I wonder what would have happened if Piantedosi had said similar things about France and its government. »
What do you think would have happened?
« It is easy to imagine. There would have been very serious consequences. »
But last week they deployed 150 soldiers at the border. They keep saying that we cannot keep irregular migrants from leaving Italy.
« What does that have to do with anything? In situations like this, you sit around a table and address the issue together. It’s not like you go on television and heavily offend an ally. If there are problems, you talk to each other. »
Did you call Giorgia Meloni before cancelling your visit to Paris?
« Of course, I notified her. »
What did you tell her?
« What I am telling you now, that the note from the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs was inadequate, that the visit would have to be cancelled if an apology was not coming. »
Have you been contacted by anyone from the French government?
« Of course. Catherine Colonna called me twice to say she was sorry. She was very friendly. »
« Private phone calls are private. »
Is this a new diplomatic crisis between us and France?
« We have been attacked out of the blue. It was like a stab in the back, by a prominent member of the French government. This is not something you can ignore. However, the rest of Macron’s executive surely does not feel the same way as Darmanin. The communiqué is inadequate because it does not include an apology, but the French government is nonetheless showing both regret and embarrassment over what happened. »
We have joint interests with France on so many fronts, first and foremost on the migrant issue: the unstable situation in Tunisia concerns both of us, and the same goes for Libya and the African routes in general. Does this undermine work that obviously needs strong diplomatic convergence?
« I hope not, also because this attack is truly appalling. It is a bolt from the blue, a barrage of uncalled-for insults. It is clear that not everyone in the French government feels the same way as their Minister of the Interior, and that they clearly regret what happened, but an apology is in order. Never has an Italian or a member of the Italian government said such harsh things about the government of an allied country, or even its institutional leaders. »
What is Italy asking for at this point?
« What is only natural and legitimate. We are a great democratic country, a founder of the European Union, with thousands of years of history. We demand respect, which is the same respect we have for our allies. We demand respect for our history, our prestige, our dignity. A foreign minister cannot afford to do what this gentleman has done. By the way, we are talking about a politician who is considered to be very close to the French Prime Minister, so this also harms Macron. If one gratuitously offends another person, the least one can do is apologise. In this case, this gentleman has offended all Italians, as well as the Italian government and the Prime Minister. He even compared us to the extreme right, which is unbelievable. »