(Rome) New Franco-Italian crisis on the burning issue of immigration: the head of Italian diplomacy Antonio Tajani canceled his first visit to Paris on Thursday after remarks described as “ unacceptable ” by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin against Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

The latter “ is unable to solve the migration problems on which it was elected ”, said Gérald Darmanin on French radio RMC while the peninsula has been witnessing record arrivals of migrants on its coasts since January.

Mr. Darmanin was responding to a question about remarks by the president of the far-right National Rally (RN) party Jordan Bardella about the migration situation at the Franco-Italian border.

“ Yes, there is an influx of migrants and especially minors ” in the south of France, admitted Mr. Darmanin, who blamed Rome for it: “ The truth is that there is in Tunisia […] a political situation which means that many children in particular go up through Italy and that Italy is unable […] to manage this migratory pressure”.

“Meloni is like (the leader of the extreme right in France Marine) Le Pen, she gets elected on ‘you’ll see what you’ll see’ and then what we see is that it (immigration) does not stop and it increases,” continued the French minister. According to him, the head of the Italian government is facing “ a very serious migration crisis ”.

Rome’s reaction to this full-scale attack was immediate: the head of Italian diplomacy, who was expected in Paris on Thursday evening for a meeting with his counterpart Catherine Colonna, immediately canceled his visit.

“ The offenses against the government and Italy launched by Mr. Darmanin are unacceptable ”, he denounced on Twitter. “ This is not the spirit with which we must face common European challenges ”.

Faced with the escalation, Paris tried to calm things down, the Quai d’Orsay “hoping” that the visit would be “rescheduled quickly”.

“ The French government wishes to work with Italy to face the common challenge represented by the rapid increase in migratory flows ”, ​​had indicated earlier the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the wake of Mr. Darmanin’s remarks.

The bilateral relationship is “founded on mutual respect, between our two countries and between their leaders”, also underlined the Quai d’Orsay.

Immigration has been an ultra-sensitive subject in Franco-Italian relations for years.

In November, the two countries experienced a strong outbreak of fever when the Meloni government, barely in power, refused to allow a humanitarian ship from the NGO SOS Méditerranée to dock, which ended up being welcomed by France in Toulon (south ) with more than 200 migrants on board.

The episode had angered Paris, which had called a European meeting so that this unprecedented scenario did not happen again.

Since then, clandestine boat crossings have increased with the development of a new maritime corridor between Tunisia and Italy, on the front line at the gates of Europe.

According to the Italian Interior Ministry, more than 42,000 people have arrived via the Mediterranean in Italy this year compared to around 11,000 over the same period in 2022.

In this context, French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne announced at the end of April the mobilization of 150 “additional” police officers and gendarmes to deal with “ dealing with increased migratory pressure at the Italian border ” as well as the creation of a “ border force ”, a force at the frontiers.

“ In Australia, it works very well ”, defended Gérald Darmanin on Thursday: “ At the border, we stop people and make them pass identity checks ”.

According to the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM), the first quarter of 2023 was the deadliest for migrants in the Mediterranean since 2017.