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France-Italy border dispute over migrants - is the EU breaking up?

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Italian Police border officers (L and 3rdL) check the papers of three African migrants on October 21, 2018 in the Alpine border town of Claviere, some 100 kilometers west of Turin. AFP

On Sunday, Italy's Matteo Salvini invited France's newly appointed Christophe Castaner to Rome for talks. Symptoms of a larger discord between EU's nationalist and reformist factions?


A migrant walks past an inscription reading, in French, "Neither Salvini, nor Macron" on October 21, 2018 in the Alpine border town of Claviere, some 100 kilometers west of Turin. AFP

On Sunday, Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini invited his French counterpart Christophe Castaner to a summit in Rome.

"Italy will no longer be helpless and cowardly. We will no longer accept being Europe's refugee camp", he declared.

A day earlier, Italy set up a special border patrol after French authorities continued to return migrants who crossed over to France from Italy.

Salvini said that Italian troops would stay in place pending talks with France's new Interior Minister.

Le ministre de l'Intérieur Matteo Salvini, lors d'une conférence de presse, ce samedi 20 octobre 2018, au Palais Chigi à Rome. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Salvini condemns "hostile act" by France

The rhetoric between Italy and France, concerning the passage of migrants between the two countries, escalated over the weekend.

Matteo Salvini fired off tweets accusing French authorities of "abuse" and possible "hostile acts".

This was after French border police turned back migrants trying to enter French soil from the Italian village of Claviere.

In retaliation, Salvini set up a special border patrol in the area.

He also tweeted a provocative video

Video filmed by Claviere resident, tweeted by Matteo Salvini

Saturday's events were sparked off by another incident a few days earlier, when French local police dropped off two migrants in the woods of Claviere.

EU law versus bilateral agreements

France claims that sending migrants back to Italy is standard procedure, in accordance with EU law.

The Dublin agreement legislates that migrants must seek asylum in the European country they first set foot on.

However, Salvini claims there had been no bilateral agreement between France and Italy on such matters.

"Times have changed, and Italy will no more accept foreigners arrested on French soil without identity checks performed by Italian police." Salvini said.

A car drives into France at the Italian - French border on October 21, 2018 in the Alpine border town of Claviere, some 100 kilometers west of Turin. AFP

Thousands of migrants trying to enter France from Italy

Each year, thousands of migrants trying to enter France are pushed back to Italy by French border police.

Last week, Matteo Salvini claimed 40,000 migrants had been thus returned to Italy since the beginning of the year.

"It is President Macron's right to protect his border," he said. "But let him not lecture me with moral discourse".

Leader of France's far-right National Rally (RN) party, Marine Le Pen (R) speaks as Italy's Interior minister, Matteo Salvini looks on, during a press conference within a meeting on the theme "Economic growth and social prospects in a Europe of Nations" on AFP

EU nationalists versus reformists - round one ?

The meeting between Italy's Matteo Salvini and France's Christophe Castaner will be a litmus test, both for France's Castaner as well as for European politics.

As France's newly appointed Interior Minister, this will be Castaner's first summit on migration, an issue tearing apart the current European political landscape.

On a larger scale, a Castaner-Salvini head-to-head may be considered the first round of a larger sparring game between rival political forces in Europe.

Matteo Salvini is the flag-bearer of Europe's hardline block, along with the likes of France's Marine Le Pen and Hungary's Victor Orban.

All three are characterised by nationalist rhetoric and anti-migrant policies.

Castaner, on the other hand, is a loyal footsoldier to French president Emmanuel Macron -- known for his desire to reform Europe with free-market economic policies.

The French president recently went on a tour of Denmark and Finland to woo these countries over to his side.

Mateo Salvini and Victor Orban issued a recent statement positioning themselves as opponents to Macron's vision of Europe.

As the 2019 elections approach, it is highly probable that this sort of incident concerning migrants be used as a catalyst to spur on the growing rivalry.