By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
In a fit of rage, French President Emmanuel Macron has recalled his Ambassador to Italy for consultations. In diplomatic parlance, a nation recalls its Ambassador for ‘consultations’ when it wishes to express extreme displeasure to another country.
Let alone recalling an Ambassador, it is very unusual for two senior (and founding) members of the European Union to air their differences publicly. Disagreements in the past have been settled amicably and quietly.
In March 2018 elections in Italy, the center-right alliance, in which Matteo Salvini‘s League emerged as the main political force, won a plurality of seats in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate, while the anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio became the party with the highest number of votes. The center-left coalition, led by Matteo Renzi, came third. As a result, after protracted negotiations, a new coalition government was formed with law professor Giuseppe Conte being appointed as the prime minister with support from the League and the Five Star Movement, even though he did not run for the Italian Parliament. Salvini and Di Maio were appointed vice premiers.
Since then, unable to find common ground on a series of issues, relations between France and Italy have deteriorated.
Italian Vice Premier Salvini has expressed willingness to ‘reset’ relations but insist, several issues need to be addressed. Italy has demanded the return of left-wing Italian militants, currently in France evading arrest. Another reason is the French insistence on returning illegal migrants crossing to France from Italy.
The latest spat came when Vice Premier Di Maio met with ‘Yellow Vest’ protestors and posted photographs on Twitter. Yellow Vest protest group is planning to contest in the European Parliament elections in May.
The French were outraged and called the meeting “unacceptable provocation.” Di Maio was warned not to interfere in French politics. President Macron then ordered his Ambassador to return to Paris for consultations.
The three-month-old ‘Yellow Vest’ movement is not a militant or terrorist group. They are campaigning against what they see as rising social inequality and a government mostly indifferent to the concerns of ordinary people. They are hostile to the French government, especially to Macron.
The French Foreign Ministry stated, “They violate the respect that is owed to democratic choices made by a nation which is a friend and an ally.”
“To disagree is one thing, to exploit a relationship for electoral aims is another.”
The Franco-Italian spat need be examined in the backdrop of the US, UK, EU, French, German, Norwegian and Indian meddling in affairs in Sri Lanka. It is not a secret, Britain’s involvement in the affairs of Sri Lanka is due to no small measure for ‘electoral aims’ and gains. Until May 2009, these nations interacted with LTTE terrorists, often inside their embassies in Colombo and in their respective countries.
Whereas France takes umbrage over Vice Premier Di Maio meeting with a group French protesting over social inequalities, she and its western allies regularly send politicians and bureaucrats to hob-nob with local politicians in Sri Lanka openly. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leaders make regular pilgrimages to their places of worship (foreign missions in Colombo) to meet up with minor deities arriving from these countries and seek divine intervention, especially in the Constitution project.
That said, it is to be expected as Sri Lanka is blessed with leaders who opt to resolve issues with the assistance of western ambassadors in Colombo rather than our own Supreme Court, as observed during the October political crisis.
If Sri Lanka were to take a page from the French copybook, most of its ambassadors in the west would have to be recalled for ‘consultations.’
This is but a classic example of the western and Indian doctrine, ‘do as we say, not as we do.’
Some justify it as geopolitical realities.