France recalled its ambassador to Italy on Thursday, an extraordinary diplomatic rupture between longtime European Union and NATO allies, after a series of provocations by Italy’s populist leaders, culminating in a meeting between a top Italian official and leaders of the “Yellow Vest” protests in France.
Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s deputy prime minister and leader of the anti-establishment Five Star movement, met with the protesters in France on Tuesday. Italian leaders had voiced support for the protesters before, but to grant them a high-level meeting — on French soil, no less — was a rare breach of protocol between allies who usually try not to intervene overtly in each other’s politics.
Last month, Mr. Di Maio said that France had “never stopped colonizing” the African nations that are former French colonies. He called for European Union sanctions against France for policies he said continued to impoverish Africa.
The leader of Italy’s right-wing League party, Matteo Salvini — the interior minister and deputy prime minister who is widely seen as the most powerful figure in the government — said last month that he hoped French voters would turn against President Emmanuel Macron.
“For several months France has been the subject of repeated accusations, unfounded attacks and outrageous declarations,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday. “This is unprecedented since the end of the war.”
The ministry described the Italian remarks as a calculated bid by Italy’s populists to win votes in coming elections for the European Parliament. “To have disagreements is one thing, to exploit the relationship for electoral purposes is another,” it said.
Without mentioning the Yellow Vests meeting explicitly, the ministry said, “the latest interference is an additional and unacceptable provocation.”
The ministry said France was recalling its ambassador “for consultations.”