France has recalled its ambassador to Rome following “baseless attacks and outrageous statements” from Italy in recent months.
Paris said Rome’s verbal assaults were without precedent since the two countries joined together after World War Two to help create the European Union.
In response, Italy said France must stop sheltering Italian criminals.
President Emmanuel Macron has been goaded on a series of controversial issues by Italy’s two deputy prime ministers – Matteo Salvini of the right-wing Northern League, and Luigi Di Maio of the 5-Star Movement, who entered power last year.
Last month, Mr Salvini described Mr Macron as “terrible president”. He has also accused Paris of doing nothing to bring peace to Libya.
Earlier this week, Mr Di Maio met supporters of a yellow vest group thinking of running in the European elections in May.
France’s yellow vest movement has become the biggest challenge to Mr Macron’s presidency, protesting against his economic reforms, which are seen as favouring the rich while squeezing the household incomes of ordinary people.
Mr Di Maio has also described France as a creator of poverty in Africa.
It is thought that by attacking Emmanuel Macron – a fervent europhile – the two Italian deputy PMs are trying to appeal to domestic voters ahead of the EU elections.
“France has been, for several months, the target of repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements,” France’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Having disagreements is one thing, but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims is another.
“All of these actions are creating a serious situation which is raising questions about the Italian government’s intentions towards France.”
Mr Salvini said the Italians did not want to argue with Paris, and were happy to meet Mr Macron, adding that he was ready to forge better relations for “the good of our people”.
But he also said France must stop pushing back migrants at the border, and cease sheltering Italian criminals.
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