Paris: Paris will not be drawn into a "stupidity contest" with the populist government of Italy, where officials have launched several verbal attacks on President Emmanuel Macron, France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau said Wednesday.
"Our intention is not to have a stupidity contest," Loiseau said, adding that the government would not wage a war of words or otherwise seek to retaliate against Rome.
Tensions have flared between the two countries since the Five Star Movement aligned with the far-right League party came to power in Italy last June.
Macron targeted the populist government specifically last year as he sought to form a pro-Europe alliance of parties ahead of European Parliament elections in May, raising the hackles of politicians in Rome.
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio accused Paris of continuing to colonise Africa and causing people to migrate from the continent to Europe.
That prompted France to summon Italy's ambassador in protest over Di Maio's comments that "the EU should sanction France and all countries like France that impoverish Africa and make these people leave".
Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini then poured fuel on the fire Tuesday by referring to Macron and saying he hoped French voters would soon free themselves from a "terrible president".
Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, said in a Facebook video that he felt "close, with all my heart... to the French people, the millions of men and women who live in France under a terrible government and terrible president." Di Maio and Salvini have also voiced support for the "yellow vest" protesters who have been demonstrating against Macron's government since November.
Macron himself said last year that European populist leaders including Salvini were right to see him as their "main opponent," denouncing in particular Italy's hardline stance on refusing migrants.