France has summoned Italy’s ambassador after the Italian deputy prime minister accused the French of exploiting Africa and fuelling migration.
Luigi di Maio urged the European Union to impose sanctions on France for its policies in Africa.
Di Maio stressed that France had “never stopped colonising tens of African states”.
The two countries have previously clashed on issues linked to migration.
Most African migrants dock in Italy, making it the destination for thousands seeking a new life in Europe.
Last year, France criticised Italy for not allowing rescue boats carrying migrants in the Mediterranean to dock. Italian officials responded by accusing France itself of refusing to accept migrants.
Mr Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) which governs in coalition with the far-right League party, made his latest comments during a visit to central Italy at the weekend.
It came as the UN said about 170 migrants were feared drowned in two separate Mediterranean shipwrecks.
“The EU should sanction France and all countries like France that impoverish Africa and make these people leave, because Africans should be in Africa, not at the bottom of the Mediterranean,” he said.
“If people are leaving today it’s because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonising dozens of African countries.”
He said if it wasn’t for Africa, France would rank 15th among world economies, not in the top six.
The Italian ambassador to France, Teresa Castaldo, was summoned to the foreign ministry in Paris on Monday.