The new Italian government has frequently clashed with Paris, be it on immigration or policy in Libya.
France has summoned Italy's ambassador to protest against comments by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who accused Paris of continuing to colonize Africa and causing people to migrate from the continent, a government source told AFP.
The ambassador was summoned Monday after the "unacceptable and groundless" comments by Di Maio on Sunday, a source in the cabinet of France's Europe Minister Natalie Loiseau told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Di Maio made a series of remarks while visiting the Abruzzo region in central Italy, the latest sign of serious tensions between the government in Rome and France's Emmanuel Macron.
"The EU should sanction France and all countries like France that impoverish Africa and make these people leave, because Africans should be in Africa, not at the bottom of the Mediterranean," Di Maio said. "If people are leaving today it's because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonizing dozens of African countries," added the leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), which governs alongside the far-right League party.
Responding to the summoning of his Paris ambassador, Di Maio dismissed the idea of a "diplomatic incident" between the two countries.
"France is one of these countries which, because it prints the currency of 14 African countries, hampers development and contributes to the departure of refugees," he said, citing a refrain commonly heard among some leftist and anti-imperialist activists. "If Europe wants to be brave, it must have the courage to confront the issue of decolonization in Africa."
The International Organization for Migration said this weekend that more than 100 people were feared missing after a boat carrying migrants capsized off the coast of Libya. The Italian navy flew three survivors to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa.
Italy has closed its ports to rescue boats operated by charities in the Mediterranean under a new racist approach to immigration.
After making arrogant comments criticizing the Italian government and its approach to immigration last year, Macron and the French government have since largely avoided entering into a war of words with Rome.
But relations between the two capitals, usually close EU allies, have deteriorated since the M5S-League coalition became the European Union's first government allying the far-right and the far-left in June last year.
Di Maio and fellow Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, from the far-right League party, recently backed "yellow vest" protesters who have been demonstrating against Macron's government since November.
France argues that the CFA franc has brought welcome monetary stability to the countries that use it, but French President Emmanuel Macron said in 2017 that it was up to African governments to decide what to do with the currency.