The long-standing ties between Italy and France is not debatable, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday in response to news that France has recalled its ambassador from Rome for consultations.
In a statement tweeted by the French embassy in Italy, the French Foreign Ministry cited "repeated accusations, baseless attacks, outrageous statements" that have been "unprecedented since the end of the war (World War II)" as its motivation.
"The latest interferences constitute an additional and unacceptable provocation," the statement said, Xinhua news agency reported.
"The campaign for the European elections cannot justify (such) lack of respect...All these acts create a serious situation, which put into question the intentions of the Italian government with respect to its relationship with France".
"France calls on Italy to take action to recover a relationship of friendship and mutual respect, worthy of our history and our common destiny," the French diplomatic service in Rome tweeted.
"I have not spoken to (French President Emmanuel) Macron, but I wish to say that the relationship between Italy and France, both cultural and economic, is a deep-rooted one and therefore it cannot be put into question by contingencies," Conte said in response to questions from reporters about the recall of the French ambassador.
Traditionally close allies, France and Italy saw their relations worsen after the far-right League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement came to power and formed a coalition government in Italy last June.
Since then, Italian politicians have engaged in a war of words taking aim at the French president, a harsh advocate of liberalism.
Tensions between Rome and Paris have been high in recent months over several issues, including Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio's outspoken support for the Yellow Vest protesters in France and his claims that France is fuelling Europe's migrant crisis through its "neocolonialist" policies in Africa.
On Tuesday, Di Maio, who leads the populist Five Star Movement, travelled to France, where he met with members of the extremist fringes of the Yellow Vest group ahead of European parliament elections to be held in May. "The wind of change has crossed the Alps," Di Maio tweeted at the time.
On Thursday, Di Maio defended his actions on Facebook, writing that "my meeting with Yellow Vest members...is fully legitimate. I claim the right to dialogue with other political forces that represent the French people."
"I don't want to fight with France, but I want France to respect its commitments," Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the rightwing League party, also said in televised comments, adding he is willing to talk to Macron any time and that he wants France to extradite Italian terrorist fugitives and to stop pushing migrants back across its border into Italy.
Di Maio and Salvini both serve as deputy premiers in Italy's rightwing-populist government led by Conte.
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