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For journalists especially, the age of Trump and Brexit engenders what J.G. Ballard – writing with clairvoyance in the 1970s – called “the death of affect”. Stunning political news has become banal.
However, Thursday’s news that France has withdrawn its ambassador to Italy sent waves of shock around the Paris newsroom where I work. The last time the Quai d’Orsay recalled its envoy to Rome was in 1940, when Mussolini had just declared war on France and Britain.
The French foreign ministry said its diplomatic recall was in response to “repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements”. Earlier last week, Luigi di Maio, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), flew to France to meet gilets jaunes activists, whose often violent protests have shaken Emmanuel Macron’s presidency. On January 21, di Maio declared on the topic of mass migration: “If we have people who are leaving Africa now it’s because some European countries, and France in particular, never stopped colonising Africa.”
But despite the luridness of this spat – capable of jolting the most jaded political observer – it’s ultimately about an issue that has always bored everyone to sleep: elections to the European parliament.