Italy doubles down on criticism of France over Libya

Relations between Rome and Paris have grown frosty since Italy’s new government came to power in April.
Tuesday 22/01/2019
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. (Reuters)
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. (Reuters)

LONDON - Tensions between Italy and France are on the rise after Rome accused Paris of seeking to stoke tensions in Libya in order to harm its energy sector.

“In Libya, France has no interest in stabilising the situation, probably because it has oil interests that are opposed to those of Italy,” Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini told Canale 5 TV.

Italian energy giant Eni and French energy giant Total have separate ventures in Libya, with many analysts believing that the two companies could eventually end up competing for supremacy in Libya’s emerging energy market.  

Eni – as part of a joint venture with BP – is leading oil exploration in Libya for the first since 2011, focusing mainly on the south-western Ghadames Basin in the Sirte Basin. Total has invested in oil fields in Libya’s Waha fields, also located in the Sire Basin.

Relations between Rome and Paris have grown frosty since Italy’s new government – a coalition between the far right League led by Salvini and the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement – came to power in April.

Salvini’s comments came just days after Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi De Maio – head of the 5 Star Movement – attacked France’s Africa policy.

“If we have people who are leaving Africa now it’s because some European countries, and France in particular, have never stopped colonising Africa,” he said.

“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,” he added.

De Maio’s comments incensed Paris, with France’s Foreign Ministry summoning Italy’s ambassador to demand an explanation.

“It’s not the first time the Italian authorities have made unacceptable and aggressive comments,” a French diplomatic source said.

Di Maio has refused to back down, and reiterated criticism of Paris’s policies in Africa, accusing it of manipulating the economies of the 14 African countries that use the CFA franc – a colonial-era currency that remains underpinned by France’s Treasury Department.

“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.

“I’ve stopped being a hypocrite talking only about the effects of immigration and it’s time to talk about the causes. The EU should sanction all those countries like France that are impoverishing African countries and are causing those people to leave,” he added.

Salvini is backing his fellow deputy minister in the diplomatic crisis, indicating the new brash foreign policy being pursued on the continent by Rome under Italy’s new government.

“France has no reason to get upset because it pushed away tens of thousands of migrants (at the French border), abandoning them there as though they were beasts. We won't take any lessons on humanity from Macron,” Salvini said.