Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has criticised France and Germany after she was not invited to a dinner in Paris with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, adding to friction between the European Union allies.
Zelenskyy started a surprise visit to Western Europe on Wednesday with a visit to the United Kingdom and then to France, where he had a late dinner with Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz before an EU summit on Thursday.
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But unlike last year, when the then-Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi worked hand-in-hand with Macron and Scholz on Ukraine, Meloni was left out in the cold.
Speaking to reporters as she arrived at the Brussels summit on Thursday, Meloni, who took office last October, said she thought the snub was “inappropriate”.
“I think our strength in this fight is unity,” she added.
She later met Zelenskyy on the sidelines of the EU meeting.
Asked about her comments, Macron said he thought Wednesday’s dinner had been fitting.
“As you know, Germany and France have had a special role on the Ukraine question for eight years,” he told reporters, referring to joint mediation by the two countries that tried, and failed, to prevent conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
However, things were different when Draghi, a former president of the European Central Bank, was prime minister. Draghi travelled with Macron and Scholz to Kyiv by train last June and played a leading role with them in shaping EU opposition to Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
Meloni has pledged to maintain the same pro-Ukraine stance, despite the misgivings of some of her coalition allies, telling reporters on Thursday that providing help to Kyiv was the best way to bring about peace.
Underscoring her willingness to support Kyiv, Italy and France finalised technical talks last week for the joint delivery of a SAMP/T-MAMBA air defence system to Ukraine early this year.
However, Meloni’s brand of nationalist politics has put her at odds with both Macron and Scholz on an array of other issues and the close ties that Draghi forged with Paris and Berlin seem a distant memory.
Paris last November accused Meloni’s new government of breaking a bond of trust and breaching international laws by refusing to take in refugees and migrants saved by a charity rescue ship. The boat eventually docked in France instead.
Earlier this week, French and German ministers flew to Washington together to discuss contested US subsidies with their US counterparts, excluding Italy, which is the second-largest manufacturer in the European Union after Germany.