It was early morning when Alessandro Di Battista and Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement (M5S) flew to France for long-awaited talks with the gilets jaunes. On the outskirts of Paris they met with Christophe Chalenon, one of the leaders of the protest movement, who some days ago announced his intention to field candidates for the European elections. The two leading M5S figures were accompanied by MEPs Fabio Massimo Castaldo, Ignazio Corrao and Tiziana Beghin, who had already taken part in previous meetings in January with these potential allies in Europe.
“This is the first step. We will work together in the coming months, but have not yet discussed European election alliances,” said Di Maio, who on social networks however expressed confidence about possible areas of consensus. “The wind of change has crossed the Alps”, the deputy prime minister wrote, and M5S supporters are well aware that their own battles have much in common with the demands of the gilets jaunes: from direct democracy and social rights to environmental issues and opposition to the high-speed rail link between France and Italy.
The meeting however ended on a sour note over two issues. The first problem was the position of Chalenon, who caused concern by referring to the clashes in France as “civil war”. In a video posted on his Facebook profile on 23 December – as reported by the newspaper France Soir –, Chalenon, who is a blacksmith from Vaucluse in Provence, said: “now the army must step in to allow a transitional government”. He saw this as urgent, because “in early January there will be civil war; it’s inevitable”.
And there is a further mystery. In an interview with Le Parisien, Chalenon commented on a possible alliance with M5S as “not on the cards”. The Five Stars – speaking of subsequent conversations between Di Maio and the French protest leader – specified that the words were taken out of context, and were part of a longer answer in which Chalenon clarified that since the gilets jaunes did not yet have any MEPs or candidates, it was premature to speak of a “marriage” with M5S for the European elections. Meanwhile, further meetings may be planned, with leading gilets jaunes protester Ingrid Lavasseur expected in Rome next week.
6 febbraio 2019 (modifica il 6 febbraio 2019 | 18:03)
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