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An Italian Warning for France

With Italy’s populist government supporting the “Yellow Vest” protests, France needs to understand how and why it has become the principal target of Italian criticism. Reckoning with this latest turn of events could help France to overcome its own internal divisions and prevent Italian-style populism from taking power in Paris.

PARIS – The support from Italy’s populist leaders for the “Yellow Vest” protests in France is a sad first in the history of the European Union. Never before has one of the six founding countries of the European project intervened so resolutely in the domestic affairs of another. To add insult to injury, Italy is supporting a movement that contains elements who clearly reject fundamental European values of tolerance and respect for democratic institutions.

Italy has gone astray, and France needs to understand why, so that it can fight to ensure that populism does not gain further ground domestically. In doing so, France must distinguish the Italian people from some of their far less admirable political leaders.

Rising tensions between the French and Italian governments are partly the result of competition between the two populist parties in Italy’s ruling coalition, which took office in June 2018. This was recently reflected in strong anti-French rhetoric from the leader of the Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, who until now has been largely eclipsed by the League party leader, Matteo Salvini. But anti-French sentiment in Italy has deeper roots, and exists among both the elites and parts of the wider population.

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