When a French minister compared Italy's nationalist Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni last year to the leader of the French far right, the Italian premier rang French President Emmanuel Macron to complain.

Meloni was so incensed that the French leader felt compelled to send an emissary to Rome to appease her, said two sources with knowledge of the conversations.

The Italian premier's message to Macron was clear, according to one of the sources: she was no Italian version of Marine Le Pen.