“An overtly demonstrative agreement,” “a highly symbolic agreement.” These are the words the European press and political scientists assess the deal concluded between France and Italy. Why do many see what is happening as an attempt by Rome and Paris to reduce Germany’s influence on the European Union – and will it be possible to do this?
A few days ago, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi signed an Agreement to strengthen bilateral relations. The act was called the Quirinal Agreement at the place of signing of the document – in the Quirinal Palace in Rome. The world and even European media practically did not notice this event. The situation looks, according to many experts, “at least vague.”
Is that the Spanish El Cinfidencial noted that the agreement concluded is “highly symbolic”, since it is about “privileged cooperation between the two countries. But he is viewed with distrust in the European Union, which is still unable to adjust the balance of power after Britain’s dramatic withdrawal from the bloc and due to the end of the Merkel era in Germany. “
Welcome to Frantalia
“I understand the concerns of the rest of the EU member states,” says Gianni Puoti, a lawyer at the University of Niccolo Cusano in Rome and a former deputy secretary of state in Italy. – At a key moment in the economic recovery of the European Union and the transition period in Germany, this new openly demonstrative agreement suddenly appears. The pact shows us a growing harmony in relations between Rome and Paris, which has not happened since the 1950s of the last century. And this agreement (the full text of which the press does not have, which is also suggestive) is a clear challenge to the predominance of the Franco-German axis in the European equation and a course to change it in favor of the Franco-Italian alliance. “
“It is obvious that now the Italian component is gaining additional weight (in Europe), and this message is also addressed to Germany, whose weight, on the contrary, is decreasing,” says Marc Lazare, a French historian and expert on Italian-French relations, professor at the University of Paris.
The Apennine state, by the way, recently had practically no end to those wishing to get closer to it. Spain, for example, also sought an approach to Rome in European spheres. But … good personal contacts between Macron and Draghi (since the time when the latter ruled the Euro Central Bank) outweighed the qualities of other applicants for the hand and heart of the “Italian bride”.
“Another aspect is that, unlike Italy’s relations with Spain, which are very good, there have been moments of intense tension between Italy and France in recent years, and they want all of this to be left behind,” explains Lazar. “Therefore, Draghi looks with optimism and desire not at the Iberian kingdom, but at its northern neighbor.”
Lovely cursed – only amused
Without a doubt, Franco-Italian relations in the past decade have been far from idyllic. The main controversy was over Libya, a former Italian colony in which Paris was trying to expand its hydrocarbon business. These frictions to a large extent contributed to the split in the EU: the European Union was never able to work out some kind of strategy of behavior in this North African country that would suit all members of the alliance. Paris and Rome clashed on the Libyan issue so much that, being partners in the EU, they became opponents in Libya: Rome is closer to the Government of National Accord (GNA) sitting in Tripoli, led by Fayez Saraj, while France leaned towards Marshal Khalifa Haftar. the leader of the military in the east of the country.
Another front was for control of the STX France shipyard, which Paris temporarily nationalized in 2017 to prevent the Italian state-owned Fincantieri from buying it and invading this important industry for France.
But the disagreement peaked during the yellow vest crisis in France in 2019, when two deputy prime ministers of the Italian government, Luigi Di Maio (leader of the anti-system 5 Star Movement) and Matteo Salvini (far-right League), expressed support for French street protests. On this occasion, Paris even summoned its ambassador from Italy for consultations – a decision that has no precedents since 1945.
The crisis became even more acute the year that Paris implemented a reform that reduced the number of Italian teachers in the country. It was then that hundreds of scholars and artists from both countries signed the Frantalia manifesto, initiated by the Italian lawyer Enrico Castaldi and highlighting the ties between the two countries. “Strong and unbreakable cooperation based on dialogue and exchange of achievements, joint projects and mutual enrichment has always been our goal. A collaboration that over time has led to the creation of a dense network of relationships that today constitutes the true reality of the world of Frantalia, ”the letter says. Now this romantic concept, conceived to highlight the brotherhood between the French and Italians, may take on a geopolitical dimension.
Everything changed with the arrival of the former head of the European Central Bank in Palazzo Chigi (seat of the Italian government). Paris has taken the initiative to reactivate the proposal for a treaty with Rome – originally made in 2017, but left on paper after the ouster of then-Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. And this idea was well received in Italy. To be on friendly terms with France just a month before the moment when she takes over the powers of the state presiding over the EU – one does not need to be seven inches in the forehead to appreciate the pragmatism of Rome. The Italian authorities immediately came out with a high assessment of the relevance of the agreement for the Apennine state, one of the founders of the EU, later removed from the helm of the bloc by the Franco-German liaison,
“In terms of content, this is a pact that obliges the governments and state institutions of the two countries to act jointly on the main topics at the European, international and Mediterranean levels” through the mechanisms of mutual consultation, “said Piero Fassino, President of the Italian-French Interparliamentary Commission of the Italian Congress, who participated in the development of the Quirinal Treaty. “This is a quantum leap in Franco-Italian relations.”
The deal, according to a series of leaks, will cover sectors ranging from foreign policy, economics, education and research to defense and migration. The agreement is not very specific, replete with the terms “strengthen”, “expand”, “deepen”. But this is just the case when not words and numbers are important, but the very appearance of the document. Symbolizing the formation of a new strong bond in the EU, which will “pull the blanket over itself”. “Italy is again at the forefront of the EU, she perfectly chaired the G-20, her voice was heard, and this is very good news for us,” the Elysee Palace stressed.
Paris for / against Berlin and Rome
Rome today is trying not to irritate Germany too much, which is its main trading partner in the EU, but it has already firmly outlined its position. “As soon as the new German government comes to power, we will have to have a deep discussion in order to carefully prepare an intergovernmental summit with Berlin in the first half of 2022,” said Armando Varriccio, head of the Italian Embassy in Berlin. “The goal is to further structure cooperation with Germany, that is, to turn today’s excellent bilateral relations into a real strategic alliance, which is of interest not only for Italy and Germany, but also for Europe as a whole.”
Berlin is ready to consider the proposal of the Italians, but insist on the triple alliance Germany-Italy-France. This follows from the statement of Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament and the Social Democratic Party of Germany, to the newspaper La Repubblica.
Sandro Goczi, MEP and one of the main supporters of the Quirinal Treaty, tried to extinguish these contradictions. According to him, the Franco-Italian initiative does not want to copy the treaty concluded by Charles de Gaulle with Germany in 1963 (renewed in Aachen in 2019), which marked the beginning of the so-called Franco-German axis. “The history of relations between Paris and Berlin will not be like the history of relations between Rome and Paris,” he said. “The new Franco-Italian agreement is exclusively aimed at making better use of their resources by Italy and France.”
That’s it – pure business and nothing personal, as they say. However, in Germany they saw the second bottom of the Quirinal Treaty.
According to analyst Eleanor Vasquez, who spoke on the pages of the European Union publication Euractiv, “it will be very difficult to find a compromise between the new axis Paris – Rome and Berlin. They have different views on the issue of reforming the European Union: Germany is a supporter of the most austerity, while Italy and France are in favor of allocating as much money as possible from various funds to cover the damage caused by the pandemic and the crisis provoked by it. “
“The new German federal government is also seeking to reform the EU and turn it into a full-fledged European federation. However, it remains questionable whether France and Italy will support the reform efforts together with Germany, ”she added.
Paris, presumably, will benefit the most from the new Franco-Italian agreement. Macron said that “the Franco-Italian treaty is not a substitute for a deepened partnership between France and Germany, which is constantly being strengthened.” Paris did not dare to openly oppose itself to Berlin. But on the other hand, he left for himself the opportunity at each specific historical moment to choose for himself which of his two partners-heavyweights of the EU is more valuable to him and to form a duet with him, capable of dictating his will to the European Union.
It is clear that the partner who remains – albeit for a while, but still one against two – will be dissatisfied. But not so much as not to want to be reunited with Paris at some other historical moment. Macron’s cunning move leads to the fact that Germany and Italy will more or less balance each other in the EU, and France will remain above them all the time. The system of checks and balances is not new. But when used wisely, it is always effective.