'Let them eat cake' Marie Antoinette once famously said about hungry Parisians who had run out of bread during the revolution. These days, 'Let them go to Italy' seems to be the message coming from the Elysee Palace with regard to Tunisian immigrants seeking access to France, and the granddaughter of notorious Italian fascist Benito Mussolini is very unhappy about it.
Alessandra Mussolini, 47, a right-wing MP, former actress and Playboy model, last week spoke out harshly against France's first lady, the Italian-born Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Her qualm with the ex-supermodel? Not persuading her husband, President Nicolas Sarkozy, to take in the numerous Libyans and Tunisians who have been trying to get through French borders since the beginning of this year.
French broadsheet Le Figaro quotes the blonde bombshell, an ally of Silvio Berlusconi, as saying "Carla Bruni should have protested against the shutting of French borders to illegal immigrants decided by her husband," and adding "Why doesn't the first lady welcome immigrants who want to come to France in her chateaux?"
She's got a point. Despite the usual French fondness for 'solidarite', there has been little evidence of this from the government in recent months. Thousands of migrants are trying to get into France via the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, a place which the French press refers to as Italy's 'Sangatte' -- a reference to the Red Cross Centre in Calais in northern France, which acted as a draw to migrants wishing to reach Britain, before its closure in 2002.
Mussolini is not alone in her anger towards France. Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister denounced France's 'absence of solidarity'; while Brussels declared France had no right to "send migrants back to Italy". In addition to those at Ventimiglia, some 20,000 illegal migrants have arrived on Lampedusa, an island approximately midway between Sicily and Tunisia.
Mussolini's comments will certainly stir up controversy, but are likely to fall on deaf ears as far as Sarkozy is concerned. In recent months, the French far-right party, the National Front, has been topping polls and its leader, the telegenic Marine Le Pen, is tipped as a favourite for the presidential elections in 2012, leading the current ruling party, the UMP (Union for a Political Movement) to be much more far-right in its political discourse.
For example, Minister for the Interior Claude Gueant recently said that the "increase in those belonging to the Muslim faith poses a problem" to France, much to the horror of anti-racist groups and scandalising many political commentators. Yet it is the kind of statement which could have come directly from Marine Le Pen whose party is staunchly anti-immigration: the UMP are playing copycat to try and boost the party's popularity.
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is unlikely to be too upset by Mussolini's comments.
Despite once publicly opposing a plan of her husband's to conduct DNA tests on immigrants, it would seem that Carla has now given up being a leftie.
She recently confided to French daily paper Le Parisien that she was no longer "really on the left". "I belonged to a community of artists. We were bohemian, politically left, but at that time I voted in Italy. I never voted for the left in France, and I'm going to say it, it's not now that I'm going to start."
Unfortunately for her, these comments have led to her being snubbed by Louis Bertignac, the songwriter who composed her most successful album to date, Quelqu'un m'a dit which sold almost two million copies worldwide -- her music sales have never since scaled the same heights. He no longer wants to be associated with the French first lady, fearing he will be labelled right-wing.
According to the composer, Carla's political role makes their professional relationship "delicate". On a television show, Bertignac revealed he would not be interested in working on any future albums she may record: "It's much harder now. It almost means that if I work with Carla, straightaway I'll be classed [as a supporter of] the UMP."
So Carla has lost friends from the left and the right, as well as from the government of her homeland, from which she has tried to distance herself in recent years.
The former Italian president Francesco Cossiga, responded at the time: "We are very happy she's no longer Italian but who knows, given her tumultuous life, Carla Bruni might one day be obliged to ask for her Italian citizenship back."
Who knows? Maybe he's right, and Carla will come crying back home one day. In the meantime, Carla and her husband are happy enough for migrants to eat cake, as long as it's not on French soil.