Italy summoned France’s envoy on Wednesday and angrily rejected French criticism of its immigration policies, escalating a diplomatic standoff that widens one of Europe’s main political fault lines.
Italian Economy Minister Giovanni Tria also canceled a meeting with his counterpart in Paris, a day after French President Emmanuel Macron said Rome had acted with “cynicism and irresponsibility” by closing its ports to a migrant ship.
“We have nothing to learn about generosity, voluntarism, welcoming, and solidarity from anyone,” Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, told the Senate.
Salvini, who is also deputy premier and the leader of the anti-immigrant League party, called on France to apologize and said he was not prepared to take criticism from a country which regularly stopped migrants on their shared border.
France said it has received no formal request from Italy for an apology, and said it believed a planned meeting between Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in France on Friday would go ahead.
Visiting western France, Macron initially did not respond to questions on the issue but later told reporters: “We must never give in to emotions, which some people manipulate.”
The row is centered on the charity ship Aquarius, which both Italy and Malta refused to let dock at their ports. It was carrying 629 migrants and is now heading to Spain, which offered safe harbor, escorted by two Italian ships.
France was not completely alone in its criticism.
The U.N. refugee agency’s chief, Italian national Filippo Grandi, told Reuters it was “shameful” that two European countries refused to take in vulnerable migrants.
How Europe should share the responsibility of handling migrants trying to get into the bloc from war zones and poor countries, largely across Africa and the Middle East, remains a vexed question.
Many states have fallen short of their pledge, made in 2015, to take some asylum seekers from Italy and Greece and share the cost of their care.
Salvini’s League scored its best-ever result in March national elections, partly on pledges to deport hundreds of thousands of migrants and halt the flow of newcomers, and has formed a coalition with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.
More than 1.8 million have entered Europe since 2014, and Italy is now sheltering more than 170,000 asylum seekers, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants.