Macron ‘never meant to offend’ Italy

Source:AFP Published: 2018/6/14 22:13:41

Meeting between two countries’ leaders to go ahead as planned

French President Emmanuel Macron attempted to resolve tensions with Italy on Thursday, saying he never meant to cause offense by criticizing its rejection of a migrant ship in remarks that sparked fury in Rome.

Macron had on Tuesday ignited the worst Franco-Italian diplomatic spat in years by accusing Rome of "cynicism and irresponsibility" for refusing to take in 629 migrants left stranded on a rescue ship that was eventually welcomed by Spain.

Rome summoned France's ambassador over Macron's comments and suggested a planned meeting between Macron and Italian President Giuseppe Conte in Paris on Friday could be cancelled unless Paris issued an "official apology."

As the war of words intensified, Italy's new economy minister shelved a meeting Wednesday with his French counterpart in Paris.

But the tensions appeared to have ebbed after a telephone call Wednesday night between Macron and Conte.

"The president stressed that none of his comments were intended to offend Italy and the Italian people," Macron's office said in a statement.

Friday's lunch meeting between the two leaders will go ahead as planned, the statement added.

The plight of the Aquarius rescue ship has shone a light on the failure of EU members to band together in the face of an unprecedented influx of migrants arriving across the Mediterranean since 2015.

Under EU rules, migrants must apply for asylum in the European country where they first arrive, putting pressure on Italy and Greece, the main entry points for people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

An EU scheme to distribute migrants equitably around the bloc has failed miserably, with central European members flatly refusing the quotas and others, including France, falling far short of their allocated target.

On Wednesday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz hailed cooperation between the hardline interior ministers of Austria, Germany and Italy on the question of migrants.

"We believe an axis of the willing is needed to fight illegal migration," he said.

More than 700,000 migrants have landed in Italy since 2013.


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