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ROME – After a few years of stormy transalpine relations, Italy and France are putting their differences behind them with a treaty that aims to establish a new engine of cooperation between two EU heavyweights in sectors ranging from industry to Culture.
A sign of the importance of the rapprochement, Italy takes the highly symbolic decision to host the ceremony on Friday – and a dinner the day before – in the sumptuous presidential palace of the Quirinal, under the gaze of helmeted cuirassiers. Testimony to the long roller coaster journey of Franco-Italian tensions, the former papal palace chosen for the event was redesigned under the instructions of Napoleon who had planned to make it his residence after the occupation of Rome by the French forces , although he ultimately never moved. in.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi now believe it is time to turn a page on the turbulent Paris-Rome relationship, which became particularly toxic between 2018 and 2019 when a government coalition led by Movement 5 stars -The Right League held power in Italy. While there has been a marked improvement in relations since Draghi took power in February, leaders want to lock in a structure that will now allow permanent partnerships in key areas from 5G and space launchers to justice and the migration.
Despite competing goals in recent years, notably on migration, Libya and industrial projects, Paris and Rome have moved closer in recent months while coordinating on the EU’s post-pandemic economic recovery plan. As both countries are heavily in debt, they have a common interest in pushing the EU to cut spending further.
The new treaty is expected to create “more confidence in working together and in solving European challenges,” said Vincenzo Amendola, Italian Under-Secretary for European Affairs, during a visit to Paris last week to meet with the French minister of Europe. ‘Europe Clément Beaune.
“Even in times of tension, we think the same on most European issues, we agree almost completely on economic issues, health issues, and all the initiatives we have taken during the [pandemic] crisis, we launched them in a Franco-Italian way, ”noted Beaune.
The so-called Quirinal Treaty will be signed just as the exit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel creates a vacuum in European politics and before the start of the French presidential campaign
But the French are keen to stress that the Italian pact should not be considered as a distancing of Paris from the Franco-German relationship. “There is a similarity of approach, a similarity of ambitions, but I would not draw from it that there is a more strategic will of France to review its alliances”, declared an official of the Elysee, asked about the two covenants. The French official added that it would be “difficult” to prioritize the two treaties, but acknowledged that the Franco-German treaty was more ambitious in terms of security and defense.
So what’s in the treaty?
In the latest drafts of the new pact, France and Italy have committed to coordinate in a real laundry list of domains. According to people familiar with the negotiations, the partnership areas include security, defense, EU affairs, migration, industry, strategic sectors (including 5G, AI and the cloud), justice, venture capital in start-ups and innovative companies, macroeconomics, culture. and youth.
The treaty could include a joint commitment to develop the Ariane 6 and Vega-C space launchers, another person briefed on the talks noted.
Ministries linked to these sectors will be mandated to coordinate with their counterparts, while the finance and economic development ministries of both countries will commit to working more closely in “forums” on industry and the economy. The whole government is due to meet for an intergovernmental summit once a year, according to those familiar with the plans.
According to the draft treaty, Rome and Paris should coordinate before summits of the European Council of Leaders or other EU meetings to try to agree on a common position, a process that is already taking place between France and Germany. The draft treaty includes a commitment to strengthen the EU’s defense strategy, a Macron favorite to complement NATO’s capabilities, according to those familiar with the Next Pact. Other clauses mandate a cross-border cooperation committee and a Franco-Italian youth council, according to the Elysee.
Highs and lows
Macron first suggested the treaty in 2017 with talks starting in 2018 with then-prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, now EU economy commissioner. But following the creation of a populist coalition government between the 5-star protest movement and the far-right League led by Giuseppe Conte, relations entered a period of “deep crisis”, according to Jean-Pierre Darnis. , expert in Franco-Italian. relations and lecturer at the Université Côte d’Azur and at the Luiss University in Rome.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini openly argued with Macron over migrants and Libya. When the Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio met the French demonstrators of the yellow vests, Paris recalled its ambassador to Rome. Relations have reached their lowest point since World War II, as the French Foreign Ministry said.
Under the second Conte government in 2020, this time a center-left coalition, treaty talks were revived. But it was Draghi’s arrival at Palazzo Chigi that caused the acceleration, Darnis said. “It’s a sign that we can trust Italy. Draghi is a pledge of political, technical and economic capacity.
A few months after Draghi came to power, the French offered an olive branch, extraditing 10 terrorists convicted of the alleged years of lead – political violence in the 1970s – and paved the way for cooperation.
“This treaty was essentially negotiated this year,” said the Elysee official, while noting that the talks had started in 2018 but that there was “a certain slowdown due to the crisis between the two countries. “.
“But we believe that this crisis is really behind us and that we have re-established a Franco-Italian relationship of exceptional quality,” he added.
Industrial cooperation will likely be a litmus test of whether the new deal is more than symbolic. The presence of the French Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire in Rome with Macron seems to go in this direction.
Europe’s industrial policy has traditionally been dominated by the Franco-German couple – who have often set the EU’s industrial agenda by proposing joint investment plans or pushing together for reforms – while relations Franco-Italian industrialists have often been strained, with takeover bids. on industrial gems vetoed by governments on both sides of the Alps.
The failure of the takeover of Chantiers de l’Atlantique in France by the Italian Fincantieri last January and the tensions surrounding a possible sale of part of the Italian defense giant Leonardo to the Franco-German consortium KNDS show that the Franco-Italian industrial rivalry is still alive.
The merger between carmakers Fiat Chrysler and the Peugeot group has been more successful, despite some Italian concerns over the involvement of the French government.
The economic ties between the two countries are very strong, especially in terms of trade, but in terms of investments, they leaned in favor of France.
France was the top foreign investor in Italy in 2019, while Italian investors ranked 8th in France, according to the French Ministry of the Economy. Last year, a parliamentary commission for national security even warned against “a growing and programmed presence of economic and financial operators of French origin in our economy” which could result in industrial decisions contrary to national interests. .
“We hope that the pact will help to rebalance this gap”, noted Paolo Formentini, lawmaker of the League and vice-president of the foreign affairs committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies.
Sandro Gozi, a former undersecretary for European affairs, who worked on the treaty under the Gentiloni government, and then advised Macron, said the more structured relationship could help avoid misunderstandings between the two countries which “assume they know each other well, “but have” a lot of preconceptions about each other. ”
Divisions that have often been addressed too late have demonstrated the need for the treaty, he said. “Libya has been a lesson. Due to competition and disagreement [between Paris and Rome] everyone lost, the Russians and the Turks entered, ”he added.
In Italy, the opposition is limited, Draghi being supported by a grand coalition.
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right opposition Frères d’Italie, criticized the government for not involving parliament in the negotiations and accused the Italian left of being “the spokesperson for French interests in Italy” .
But the far-right League, which is part of the government coalition and holds the industry portfolio, is more positive.
“The League is always on the side of the national interest,” noted MP Formentini. “It is in the national interest to speak to each other, especially with regard to the stabilization of the Mediterranean and migration,” he added, noting that his comments were based on press articles on the agreement. .
Even the French right has been cautious. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, called the treaty proof that national governments, not the EU, are the main players on the international stage. “It actually seems to me to be another sign of the great comeback of nations and bilateral relations between sovereign countries,” she told Corriere della Sera in a recent interview.
The Treaty of Paris-Treaty may not be as deep as the Franco-German Treaty, which, for example, requires ministers from both countries to attend the other’s cabinet at least once a quarter, but it is a step in that direction.
“It was never intended to be an exact replica because France and Germany have 60 years of experience in cooperation, and for Italy this is the first time. But the treaty could evolve into something closer to the France-Germany treaty in the future, ”Gozi said.
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