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Fact check: Is France conducting a colonial policy in Africa?

Old postcard from French Congo (1905) [personal archive]

Italy sparked outrage in France and isolated itself as the Deputy Prime Minister, Luigi Di Maio, accused the neighboring country to conduct colonialism policy in Africa, resulting in massive migration. According for the Italian minister for Foreign Affairs, Enzo Moavero Milanesi, this was a normal exchange, just a new way of conducting the political debate at EU level in the light of the next European elections. But Paris didn’t see it the same way, and the Italian ambassador in Paris was summoned by the French authorities in order to provide explanations. From Italy, Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), stood his ground.

“I don’t think we are dealing with a diplomatic case”, the vice prime minister said. “I do believe it is true that France is one of those countries which don’t allow the development of African countries, by issuing currency in fourteen different states”.

‘Colonial Franc’, Di Maio’s new (fake) enemy

All of a sudden Di Maio targeted the CFA franc, the currency used in eight West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal e Togo) and in six Central African countries (Cameroun, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea).

CFA franc is guaranteed by the French treasury, and according to the M5S leader this proves that France “keeps having de-facto colonies” on the continent. This would be the reason for Di Maio’s claim that France is perpetuating weak economies in those countries from where migrants come.

However, there is no link between CFA franc and migration. The latest figures by UNHCR show that people coming to Italy are from countries where this currency is not used. The first African State with CFA franc is ranked 8th in the list of countries of origin of migrants.

The European Commission denied that colonial-type policies are conducted by EU Member States in Africa. Asked about, the head of the spokespersons service, Margartis Schinas, simply replied “definitely not”.

Italy isolated

Despite the attempt by Rome to downplay the issue, Di Maio’s statement affected the bilateral ties. French-Italian relations are at a new low. Against this background, in Aachen Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel rebooted the Franco-German political cooperation, leaving Italy marginalised.

“The Franco-German axe is not something new”, tried to reassure Moavero at the end of the Foreign Affair Council. “I don’t believe we are isolated at European level. The fact is these political European elections produce a debate that we are not used to. We have the habit of national internal debate, while here we have a debate at EU scale”, he said.

Everything normal?

“Relations between member states are not only taking place at the level of dialogue between governments, but at the level of individual politicians”, went on Moavero. According to the Italian Foreign Affairs minister, “if we want this is the political Europe, even if it may come in a somewhat rough way”. Moreover, for him Europe reached “a turning point”, because in this new way of debating Europe “the trans-national European public space, discussed for so long, becomes a reality”.

The message is: Don’t worry. What goes on in Italy is completely normal. Moavero’s words can sound as very provocative, but in fact they illustrate what Europe has already become and will turn out to be in the near future. If accusations, allegations, screams are normal and everybody has to be prepared for that, this sounds as hard times for the EU. And for Italy.

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