French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Paris on Tuesday for their first official meeting since she took office last year as part of a hard-right coalition. The two leaders discussed a range of issues, including the war in Ukraine, NATO and bilateral relations, but the visit was overshadowed by a recent spat over migration.
Meloni, who leads the far-right of Italy party, had canceled a previous trip to Paris in May after French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that she was “incapable of solving the migration problems on which she was elected”. Darmanin also compared her to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is Macron’s main rival in next year’s presidential election.
The two countries have clashed over the management of migrant arrivals at their common border, with France accusing Italy of failing to register and process asylum seekers and Italy accusing France of pushing back migrants without due process. Italy has also complained about the lack of solidarity from other EU countries in sharing the burden of hosting migrants who cross the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East.
The two leaders tried to ease the tensions and reaffirm their friendship during their meeting at the Elysée Palace. They agreed to work together on a common European migration policy and to cooperate on security and defense issues, especially in light of the escalating crisis in Ukraine. They also expressed their support for Rome’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo, which Meloni had come to Paris to defend before the Bureau International des Expositions.
However, despite the diplomatic gestures, the differences between the two leaders remained evident. Meloni, who has adopted a hardline stance against immigration and multiculturalism, reiterated her opposition to Macron’s proposal for a European army and a European tax on digital giants. She also defended her government’s decision to block a humanitarian ship carrying 230 migrants from docking in Italy last November, which had prompted France to suspend plans to receive 3,500 migrants from Italy.
Macron, who has championed a more progressive and pro-European vision, stressed the need for dialogue and cooperation among EU partners and warned against the rise of nationalism and populism. He also urged Meloni to respect human rights and international law in dealing with migrants and refugees.
The two leaders parted ways without holding a joint press conference or issuing a joint statement, signaling the lack of convergence on key issues. Analysts say that the Franco-Italian relationship is likely to remain strained as long as Meloni remains in power and as Macron faces a tough re-election campaign against Le Pen.