The war of words between Paris and Rome has escalated with the Italian government accusing France of standing in the way of stability in Libya to ensure lucrative oil contracts.

On Tuesday, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini accused France of not wanting peace in Libya because it would mean that its lucrative oil contracts would be endangered.

A source in Macron’s office dismissed the latest attack as “ludicrous”.

“In Libya, France has no interest in stabilising the situation, probably because it has oil interests that are opposed to those of Italy,” Salvini told the Canale 5 TV station.

Salvini is the leader of the far-right party Lega Nord, which is in a coalition government with Luigi Di Maio, also a deputy prime minister and leader of the of the right-wing Five Star Movement.

Both Italian leaders have been taking turns going after France over what they perceive as French double standards on a host of issues, including migration and interference in Italian internal politics.

In Libya, France and Italy are at odds with each other as they back opposing groups in the conflict.

On the surface, both countries want to see a stable Libya, a country that is no longer a safe haven for terrorism or a base for African migrants trying to reach Europe, in particular, the shores of Italy.

So why are the countries clashing?

In May of last year, Paris brought together the Libyan opposition, Fayez al-Serraj, the head of Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli, and Khalifa Haftar, a powerful warlord in the east of the country, who was formerly a general under the Gaddafi regime.

Rome was not invited to the conference which was widely perceived as a snub in Italy.

Italy, a former colonial power in Libya, had taken the lead in resolving the Libyan civil war backing the UN-recognised government and has viewed Haftar, who is backed by France, with scepticism.

Then in September of last year, there was an increase of violence in Libya, for which the Italian Defence Minister blamed France.

Di Maio has in recent days been engaged in a war of words with Paris, in which he is holding France responsible for the migrant crisis in Europe.

"If people are leaving today it's because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonising dozens of African countries,” he said.

How did Libya get into this mess?

In 2011, at the onset of the Arab Spring, there was an uprising in Libya which was violently suppressed by Muammar Gaddafi.

Western countries, including France the UK and the US used the opportunity to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. Italy was a late to come to the war as it had signed lucrative agreements with the Gaddafi regime. 

The Financial Times noted at the time: “The Franco-Italian spat over immigration follows sharp differences over Libya, where Rome has been dragged into a war it would rather avoid, fearing a Paris-Benghazi nexus will freeze out its substantial interests in Libyan oil and gas.”

Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa and since 2011 oil production has been significantly disrupted due conflict between the warring factions.

As a result, Libya’s oil reserves are a lucrative market for Western countries, in particular Italy and France, who are seeking to secure supplies for their respective economies.