Security and Foreign Policy

Italy and France: Strained Relations Before European Elections

The crisis between Italy and France is not just a crisis of mutual trust, but a geopolitical crisis too. The downturn, triggered by the meeting between Luigi Di Maio, Alessandro Di Battista and the representatives of the French “Yellow Vest” protest, has been dragging on for months. Marika Annunziata assesses its impact.


On January 7th2019 Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio, the two deputy Prime Ministers of the Italian Government, publicly backed and applauded the “Yellow Vest” movement. Since June 2018, when the Five Stars Movement-League coalition government came into power, Italy and France have engaged in a war of words that has now escalated. The Italian deputy prime ministers’ public support of the wave of demonstrations that are undermining Macron’s figure crossed the line. In response to the “unprecedented” and “repeated” criticism and ”unacceptable provocation”by the Italian officials, France recalled its Ambassador to Italy for consultations. In a statement on January 7th, the French Foreign Ministry lamented the “lack of respect for democratic choice by a nation that is our friend and ally. They show a lack of respect between democratically and freely elected governments. The European election campaign is no justification for a lack of respect toward any nation or its democracy.” 

In order to understand the seriousness of the situation, suffice it to say that such a thing has not happened since the June 10, 1940 when Benito Mussolini declared war against Paris. The Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, when he was in Angola for an official visit, contacted as a matter of urgency the Prime Minister Conte, who was on mission abroad in Lebanon urging to restore, in order to preserve friendly relations and cooperation with France, in respect of mutual national interests.

France is Italy’s second trading partner after Germany, and the ongoing debacle might undermine French public opinion towards Italian products: the exports levels could suffer from major damages. In such a climate of tension, Vincenzo Boccia and Geoffrey Roux de Bézieux, Presidents of the two national leading networks of entrepreneurs Confindustria and Medef, on January 8thwrote to the Italian and French Presidents of Republic and urged the governments to restore normal relations, underlining the economic consequences that the tension between the two countries might have. Some markets are already showing some alarming signs. After the latest events between Paris and Rome, Air France decided to reconsider its role in the Alitalia’s rescue plan. The French airline allegedly will not take part anymore in the bailout plan because of “political and institutional reasons”, as reported by Italian economic newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. Now the future of the Italian national flag-carrier company is increasingly blurred, the same way Italy faces an uncertain political and economic future defying its European allies.

The ambassador Christian Masset, after being recalled stateside for consultations, arrived back in Rome on February 15thon a commercial flight. The President Sergio Matterella has met Masset and accepted the invitation of President Macron to pay a formal visit to the Elysee. Moreover, a new twist has occurred in the latest hours: the Minister for European Affairs Nathalie Loiseau in a recent interview published in Le Monde stated that Paris has no reason for fighting the extradition of Italian citizens charged with terrorism. “I think that our country has long underestimated the trauma of the political terrorism in Italy and Spain and that we are treated with indifference, that I do not share, the indiscriminate violence perpetrated by those individuals in a number of neighbouring countries”, declared Minister Loiseau. Marine Le Pen has also lent her support to the Italian government’s requests and is leaning on the Elysee. A historic breakthrough since the long-standing Mitterrand’s doctrine of political asylum protected and idealised by some left-wing French intellectuals.  

Peace restored only in part between France and Italy: while the political crisis appears to be over, much remains to be done in terms of old and new wounds and future areas of confrontation. The issue “TAV Torino-Lione” might present a second round of discussions. 

Demands and aspirations of Europe’s citizens have shown an increasing transverse and cross-cutting nature, expressed in a like-minded way beyond the differences between the governments appear to be. France and Italy, so dissimilar from each other, interestingly enough need to address matching demands and expectations. The forthcoming European elections might open up valuable opportunities in order to review and monitor the current geopolitical situation. This will mainly aim to strike a balance between traditional political families and coalitions and the new anti-establishment political forces: without overestimating the wind of change spreading across the continent, it is likely that the balance of power within the European Parliament after the next May elections might diverge from the current situation. 

Marika Annunziata holds a Master’s Degree in law from LUISS Guido Carli University in Rome with a main concentration in European and international law. Marika is currently a trainee attorney and is studying in order to further pursue diplomatic career in Italy.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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