Macron meets Italy PM as migrant crisis splits Europe

French First Lady Brigitte Macron has spent £44,000 on new plates for the Élysée Palace sparking outrage among critics

When Italy turned the rescue ship away from its ports with 629 refugees aboard earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron was quick to criticize: "If the French coast had been the boat's closest shore it would have been allowed to dock".

Macron's office said Thursday that the two leaders had spoken by telephone, and that "none of his comments were meant to offend Italy and the Italian people". "The tone used is unjustifiable", he said.

In just two weeks in office, his government has already chalked up a diplomatic incident with France over migration and raised eyebrows with the rejection of a European Union free-trade accord with Canada.

Rome had been outraged when French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, apparently quoting Macron, said Italy had acted with "a form of cynicism and a measure of irresponsibility".

He said Italy plans to share the proposal for an "integrated" approach to migration when Austria takes over the EU's rotating presidency on July 1.

Amid escalating tension, President Macron is to meet with new Premier Conte tomorrow in Paris. Italy will also present its own proposal to overhaul European Union asylum and immigration policy during the second half of the year, Reuters quoted Conte as saying on Friday.

While Italy has taken much of the flak over the Aquarius, Macron has come in for criticism at home - for remaining silent for two days while the ship was adrift and then laying the blame exclusively at Italy's feet.

As Conte and Macron mended fences in Paris, Italy's foreign minister met with his Maltese counterpart in Rome to discuss the clash.

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An EU scheme to distribute migrants equitably around the bloc has failed miserably, with central European members flatly refusing the quotas and others, including France, falling far short of their allocated target.

The French leader says European solidarity didn't fulfill its role in recent years with Italy, the first European country on the migration route from North Africa.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of Spain, where the Aquarius is expected to arrive on Sunday, called on Twitter for "a new Europe where national egoism does not prevail". Both nations have been enacting increasingly restrictive, anti-immigrant policies since 2015 and have pledged further crackdowns. Volunteers counted 4,000 new arrivals in the first four months of 2018.

"New prime minister of Italy is great".

Pope Francis referred to this week's standoff for the second time in as many days Friday, saying the Gospel teaches that it's wrong to leave migrants "at the mercy of the waves".

Oxfam cited the case of 20 unaccompanied African youths returned to Italy - and a court decision this year in Nice that overruled France's regional prefect who ordered them out.

But there are few signs that European leaders are anywhere near being ready to coordinate their policies despite a looming end-of-June deadline to change the EU's current asylum rules.

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