Paris (AFP) - French President Emmanuel Macron came out Saturday in support of financial sanctions against EU countries which refuse to accept migrants.
"We can not have countries that benefit hugely from EU solidarity and claim national self-interest when it comes to the issue of migrants," he said at a press conference in Paris alongside Spain's new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
"I am in favour of sanctions being imposed in the event of no cooperation," he said.
Reacting to Macron's comments, Italy's co-deputy prime minister and head of the populist M5S party, Luigi Di Maio accused the French leader of being totally oblivious to the scale of the problem.
"Macron's statements on the fact that there is no migration crisis in Italy show that he is completely out of touch with reality. Evidently, the previous Italian governments told him that the problem did not exist...," he said on Facebook.
"In Italy, the immigration emergency... is also fuelled by France with its constant rejections at the border. Macron is making his country a candidate to become Italy's number one enemy on this," he said.
Far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini also reacted furiously in remarks reported by Italian media.
"Six-hundred-and-fifty thousand landings in four years, 430,000 applications..., 170,000 apparent refugees currently housed in hotels, buildings and apartments at a cost exceeding five billion euros.
"If for the arrogant President Macron this is not a problem, we invite him to stop the insults and to demonstrate generosity by opening the many French ports and ceasing to push back women, children and men to Ventimiglia."
On the eve of a mini-summit about the divisive migration issue, Macron and Sanchez also declared support for the creation of closed reception centres where migrants would be held while their asylum claims are considered.
The centres would be set up near to where migrants often arrive first in Europe.
"Once on European soil, we are in favour of setting up closed centres in accordance with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)... so that each country takes people who are entitled to asylum in an organised way," Macron said.
There are currently no closed migrant centres where applications are processed, with the exception of a few cases in Greece and Italy managed by the UNHCR.
For migrants not entitled to asylum, they should be returned directly to their country of origin and not via other countries, Macron added.