An Italian Coast Guard boat approaches the French NGO "SOS Mediterranee" Aquarius ship as migrants are being transferred, in the Mediterranean Sea, June 12, 2018. (SALVATORE CAVALLI / AP)
ROME - Italy summoned France's envoy and angrily rejected French criticism of its immigration policies on Wednesday, escalating a diplomatic standoff between the neighboring European powers.
Italy's economy minister, Giovanni Tria, also canceled a meeting with his counterpart in Paris, a day after French President Emmanuel Macron said Rome had acted with "cynicism and irresponsibility" by closing its ports to migrants.
"We have nothing to learn about generosity, voluntarism, welcoming, and solidarity from anyone," Italy's interior minister, Matteo Salvini, told the Senate.
The row is centered on the charity ship Aquarius, which both Italy and Malta refused to let dock at their ports
Salvini, who is also deputy premier and the leader of the anti-immigrant League party, called on France to apologize and said he was not prepared to take criticism from a country which regularly stopped migrants on their shared border.
The French presidency said they had not received any formal request from the Italian prime minister for an apology.
The row is centered on the charity ship Aquarius, which both Italy and Malta refused to let dock at their ports. It was carrying 629 migrants and is now heading to Spain, escorted by two Italian ships.
The case touched on one of the main faultlines in European politics - how to share the responsibility of handling migrants trying to get into the bloc from war zones and poor countries, largely across Africa and the Middle East.
Salvini's League scored its best-ever result in March national elections, partly on pledges to deport hundreds of thousands of migrants and halt the flow of newcomers, and has formed a coalition with the anti-system 5-Star Movement.
More than 1.8 million have entered Europe since 2014, and Italy is now sheltering more than 170,000 asylum seekers, as well as an estimated half-million unregistered migrants.
Successive governments have accused other EU states have ignored pleas to take in some of the newcomers and share the cost of their care.
France tried to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll saying it was "fully aware of the burden that the migration pressure is placing on Italy" and that it was committed to cooperating with Rome on immigration.
The countries' two economy ministers also spoke by telephone, French finance ministry official said, and agreed to reschedule their canceled meeting.