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Opinion | High Unemployment? Stagnant Economy? Just Bash the French

A popular myth has resurfaced on Twitter in these fractious days about how both haute cuisine and humble utensils were introduced to the French court by Catherine de Medici, after she was sent from Florence to Paris to marry Henry II in 1533. Search Twitter for “mangiavate ancora con le mani” (“You’d still be eating with your hands”) and see. Catherine made a rookie’s mistake: She fell in love with her husband even though he was besotted with another woman (Diane de Poitiers). When I was in high school (in Florence), my history teacher consistently referred to her as “la poverina” — the poor thing — for having been twice cheated by the French, out of her love and her culinary expertise.

Food historians may have serious grounds to debate the exact parentage of béchamel and the fork, but many assumptions driving the current government’s revisionism are unquestionably wrong. Whatever Mr. Di Battista thinks of French monetary policies in Africa, for example, the highest number of African migrants to Italy come from Nigeria, a former British colony, and not from French-speaking countries.

But a populist, right-wing government such as Italy’s today needs an enemy to rally its electorate, in particular at a time of deep economic difficulties. Better to redirect attention on immigration and the French than face up to high unemployment and overall stagnation: Italy formally entered a recession this quarter.

Of course, Mr. Macron hasn’t helped matters by hardly behaving diplomatically himself. When Mr. Salvini, also Italy’s interior minister, announced that migrant boats would no longer be allowed to dock in Italian ports, the French president called the move “cynical and irresponsible.” This, even though France’s border with Italy has been closed to migrants and French authorities have been pushing them back into Italy. It is also undeniable that Europe’s southernmost countries like Italy bear a heavier share of the immigration crisis than other European states, partly because of the Dublin Regulation, a much-criticized European law that requires the countries where asylum seekers arrive to screen them and take care of them.

And yet, when the European Parliament has discussed reforms aimed at spreading more evenly the burden of immigration among members of the European Union, the League did not participate, and representatives of the Five Star Movement abstained from voting. At a final session last June, the Dublin Regulation wasn’t amended, for lack of votes in favor of reform.

Not all Italians are on board, of course. On Thursday, after France called back its ambassador, Cuneo, a small Italian town near the French border, had something like the “Marseillaise” moment in the movie “Casablanca”: Federico Borgna, the leftist mayor, flew the French flag from a balcony of city hall — an unlikely symbol of dissent in an even more unlikely dispute.

Ilaria Maria Sala is an Italian journalist based in Hong Kong.

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