| 19 April 2024, Friday |

Italy’s Meloni says France risks undermining EU unity on Ukraine

Giorgia Meloni, the prime minister of Italy, charged France on Friday with endangering the unity of the EU over Ukraine by hosting a Franco-German dinner in Paris with the Ukrainian president while excluding other European allies.

On the eve of an EU conference, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met. Zelenskiy called for more weaponry to be used in the battle against the Russian invasion.

The nationalist Italian leader has already dismissed the Paris dinner as “inappropriate” and doubled down on her criticism on Friday, saying it was vital for the 27-nation European Union to show a unified face in front of the crisis.

“What was right was the photo of Zelenskiy with the 27 (EU leaders). Anticipating that unity with a meeting in Paris was politically wrong,” she said at the end of the summit, suggesting Macron’s initiative might undermine support for Kyiv.

“It is not easy for any of us to handle the Ukraine issue with public opinion. What we do, we do because it is right but perhaps not the easiest thing in terms of consensus,” she added.

Opinion polls in Italy have consistently shown only lukewarm support for Ukraine, with one recent IPSOS survey saying just 30% of Italians backed sending weapons or air defence systems to Kyiv against 63% in Britain, 52% in France and 48% in Germany.

Meloni’s predecessor, former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, worked closely with Macron and Scholz on formulating an EU response to the Russian invasion and the three men travelled together to Kyiv last June to see Zelenskiy.

However, the warm ties cooled considerably last October after Meloni, a Eurosceptic conservative, took power. But she warned France and Germany, the eurozone’s two biggest economies, not to try to impose their policies on the rest of the bloc.

“Those who think that there is a first division and second division in the EU, those who think that Europe should be a club in which there are those who count more and those who count less, are wrong,” she said.

While representing a sea-change from the seasoned Draghi, Meloni has nonetheless stuck closely to his pro-Ukraine policy, despite scepticism from some of her own coalition partners. On Friday she reiterated that it was vital to keep backing Kyiv.

“Those who say Ukraine should not be helped are working against the sovereignty and freedom of a nation,” she said, adding that the European Union would continue to support Kyiv.

Meloni deplored that Zelenskiy will no longer address Italy’s Sanremo song festival by videolink, after criticism from across Italian politicians that it would be unsuitable to mix a showbiz event with a subject as serious as the Ukraine war.

Organisers downgraded his participation to a written message, to be read on Saturday by the festival’s presenter.

“Obviously I would have preferred him to be there,” Meloni told reporters after the two-day EU summit.

She said it was “nevertheless important” that Zelenskiy would convey his message via a letter, adding she was saddened by the controversy. She called the polemics a “frankly very minor issue in terms of international politics”.

  • Reuters