On 7 February, France recalled its ambassador from Italy, the first time this had happened since Italy’s fascist leader Benito Mussolini declared war in 1940. The recall was the latest act in a growing row between French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s coalition government, formed of the populist Five Star Movement and the far-right National League.
Macron had criticised the coalition for promoting the “leprosy” of nationalism, and Italy’s new policy of turning away migrant boats from its shores. The Italian government accuses Macron of hypocrisy for returning migrants in France to Italy, and, with the rest of the EU, failing to help Italy deal with the migrant crisis. In January Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini posted on Facebook that: “In France they have a bad government and a bad president of the Republic”. He told people not to vote for Macron’s En Marche party. Salvini posted a photo of himself with far-right National Rally (former National Front) leader Marine Le Pen, captioned “Matteo + Marine, Macron’s worst nightmare!”
Salvini is positioning himself as head of a far-right coalition across Europe aiming to “save the real Europe” in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections. Others in the coalition include 6 Poland’s Law and Justice party, Hungary’s Fidesz party, and the Alternative for Germany. He also seeks to disrupt the France-Germany partnership that forms the heart of the EU. That explains a lot of the Italians’ readiness to stir things with Macron. It plays to their crowd.
The row is less useful to Macron, whose domestic approval ratings are rock-bottom. Italy’s other deputy prime minister, Luigi di Maio of the Five Star Movement, recently accused France of creating poverty in Africa and thus fuelling mass migration from the continent to Europe. On 5 February, he met in Paris with the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement that has been causing Macron so much trouble, and boasted that “the winds of change had now crossed the Alps”. It was this act which prompted France to recall its ambassador.
Neither side in this row deserves support. It’s right to point out Macron’s hypocrisy, but the Italian government for its part represents an immediate threat to minority ethnic communities, migrants and the labour movement. Spain’s El País newspaper said the diplomatic spat pits the “liberal and democratic values of the EU founders” (Macron) against “authoritarianism” and “insurrection” (Di Maio).
There are real differences between the two sides: Macron represents the more integrationist tendencies of big European capital, while Salvini’s and Di Maio’s government is more Eurosceptic and nationalistic, but both are pro-capital and anti-worker. Socialists should support European integration, but seek to assert working-class interests within it and to use integration to build unity between European workers. That approach that can stop the big business interests eroding popular support for lower borders, and prevent the far-right and nationalists benefiting from the growing dissatisfaction with the EU. Against Macron and Salvini we must build a workers’ voice!
In the European Parliamentary elections, 23-26 May, 751 MEPs will be elected to represent the 27 member states, not including the UK. If Brexit is postponed, the UK could take part in the elections. According to shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, however, that is unlikely: a postponement, or postponements, will be so arranged as to avoid Euro-elections in the UK.
Surveys currently suggest the far-right will not win a majority in the European Parliament but will increase their influence. Sadly, working-class socialist candidatures will be scattered and piecemeal. Even where they will be strongest, in France, there will probably be two rival revolutionary socialist lists, from the NPA and from Lutte Ouvrière.