France has recalled its ambassador in Rome on Thursday after what it described as baseless and repeated attacks from Italy's political leaders, whom it urged to return to a more friendly stance.
Italy's two deputy prime ministers, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League and Luigi Di Maio of the populist, anti-establishment 5-Star movement, have in recent months goaded French President Emmanuel Macron on a number of issues.
"France has been, for several months, the target of repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements," its foreign ministry said in a statement.
"Having disagreements is one thing, but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims is another," it added, calling Italy's attacks without precedent since World War Two.
Salvini says happy to meet Macron
The Italian government does not want to fall out with France, Salvini said on Thursday, adding he would be happy to meet French president Macron to discuss recent tensions.
Salvini said in a statement he wanted to reset relations with Paris, but that France needed to address three "fundamental" issues.
He said the French police had to stop pushing migrants back into Italy and stop carrying out lengthy border checks that was blocking traffic at the frontier.
Paris must also hand over around 15 Italian leftist militants who have taken refuge in France in recent decades.
Creator of poverty
Earlier, Italy's Di Maio labelled France a creator of poverty in Africa and met with leaders of the "yellow vest" anti-government movement, while Salvini accused it of doing nothing to bring peace to Libya.
The two deputy premiers, who swept to power last year, appear to believe that attacking Macron, a fervent Europhile, would motivate their domestic voter base before EU elections in May.
"All of these actions are creating a serious situation which is raising questions about the Italian government's intentions towards France," said the French ministry.
The Italian foreign ministry had no immediate comment about the French decision, which a diplomatic source said was unprecedented since 1945.