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Franco-Italian honeymoon hits troubled waters as Macron loses No. 1 ally in Rome – POLITICO


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PARIS — As he says goodbye to his best ally in Europe, French President Emmanuel Macron is preparing for the worst.

Macron and his closest confidant in the European sphere, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, were once the stable duo that united across EU policy areas as they agreed on a range of issues – from budgetary policy to the critical question of European defence.

Under Draghi, Rome and Paris have become closer than ever as the two leaders signed a bilateral treaty last year in a lavish hall in the Quirinal Palace. After years of Franco-Italian diplomatic tensions, here is a partnership – perhaps when Europe needed it most – that fought common battles on the international stage, from fighting price cap rules gas in search of consensus on aid to war-torn Ukraine.

But the honeymoon might be over.

In a stunning ousting, precipitated by the 5-star anti-establishment movement, and brought to a spectacular end by the Italian right, Mario Draghi resigned on July 21, throwing the country into turmoil. Italy heads to the polls in September and a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni leads the polls.

“I’m totally depressed,” a French minister told POLITICO last week, commenting on Draghi’s overthrow and Meloni’s rise. “I’m a big fan of Draghi,” the minister said.

What looms on the horizon is raising deep fears within the French establishment as the downfall of Italy’s prime minister comes at a perilous time for Europe – including unity on everything from Ukraine to change climate, could be tested by the rise of populists.

ELECTION TO THE NATIONAL PARLIAMENT OF ITALY POLL OF POLLS

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Over the past five years in opposition, Meloni, leader of the far-right Italian Brothers, has relentlessly attacked the French government and Macron on issues ranging from industrial rapprochements and migrant flows to sovereignty over the summit of Mont Blanc, which straddles the transalpine border. Having Meloni as a new Italian counterpart would be a sea change for Macron, who suddenly has to contend with a prime minister pushing anti-French sentiment where there once was a favorable ally for France.

The concern is widely shared within Macron’s government majority and among many French observers.

“If the right-wing coalition wins, it is certain that Franco-Italian tensions will resume”, warns Marc Lazar, specialist in relations between the two countries and professor at Sciences Po Paris, “There are big concerns in Paris and in the government for what is happening in Italy,” he added, noting that Paris would be Meloni’s main “target”.

The right-wing leader has systematically attacked France for seizing control of Italian industrial flagships and accused Italy’s center-left Democratic Party of being complicit with Paris. Meloni also called France’s intervention in Libya “neocolonialism” and fueled territorial disputes, accusing former Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of ceding part of its fish-rich territorial waters to France and of having attacked France for allegedly moving the Franco-Italian border on Mont Blanc.

“Mrs. Meloni is a strong personality who clearly belongs to an extreme right-wing family descended from fascism,” argued Jean-Louis Bourlanges, chairman of the French National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee, adding that “the departure of Draghi is very bad news” for France as there was a “deep convergence” with Macron.

French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi sign the Franco-Italian Quirinal Treaty in Rome | Pool photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty Images

As Meloni continued to criticize France from the opposition benches, Draghi deepened his friendship with Macron. The Franco-Italian axis “has become even stronger because German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is more than discreet” compared to his predecessor Angela Merkel, Lazar said, noting that Macron and Draghi enjoy “an excellent personal relationship”. When Draghi stepped down, Macron praised him in a lengthy statement calling him a “friend” and a “friend of France”.

Transalpine friendship reached its peak last November, when the two countries sealed in Rome the so-called Quirinal Treaty, a bilateral pact modeled on the Franco-German Elysée Treaty. For Meloni, it’s a “absurd treatywhich “opens the door wide to the cumbersome neighbor who would like to reduce Italy to a branch of Paris”.

The French National Assembly voted unanimously this week to ratify the Franco-Italian pact, but in Italy things have not gone so well. The deal got the green light from the Italian parliament, but faced opposition from Meloni’s lawmakers.

Eléonore Caroit, the MP from Macron’s party in charge of the file, welcomed that French lawmakers had ratified the treaty before the Italian elections.

“This is a treaty with a stronger contractor, France, which will interpret it as it sees fit, in its own interests,” said Andrea Delmastro Delle Vedove, one of the MPs from Meloni’s party who voted against the deal and accused France of “predation”. acquisitions” of Italian companies.

According to the Brethren in Italy, the treaty would help Paris gain control of Italian industrial assets, as has happened in recent years. Meloni slammed the Franco-Italian merger between automakers Fiat-Chrysler and PSA (an “outsale” to the French, as she put it). When Paris and Rome abandoned plans to take over the Chantiers de l’Atlantique by the Italian Fincantieri, the Brothers of Italy saw in this further proof that the Franco-Italian relationship was unbalanced and that Italy was “a colony” of France.

If she wins the election, Meloni will tell the French that industrial cooperation must go both ways, said Delmastro Delle Vedove, MP for Meloni.

Meloni’s direct attacks on Macron and France have become less frequent in recent months as she aims to bolster her international credibility and appears less divisive ahead of the September election. Meloni has repeatedly dismissed his party’s ties to fascism.

If the Italian right wins, the French will realize that dealing with Rome will become “much more complex, perhaps almost impossible” and Macron will refocus on his longtime ally (Germany), Lazar predicts.

“There is no doubt that there will be an even stronger rapprochement of relations between Paris and Berlin.”

The fate of the Franco-Italian love affair now hinges entirely on the outcome of the Italian elections and whether Macron can still count on an ally in Rome.

Meloni’s main competitor, the centre-left Democratic Party led by Enrico Letta, is very close to France and Macron.

During six sabbaticals away from the chaos of Italian politics, Letta moved to Paris, where he became an academic, chaired a think tank and bonded with the Macron government.

Letta’s closeness to France and Macron has drawn criticism from Meloni’s party, which has repeatedly accused the Democratic Party of representing French interests, which Democrats reject.

“To defend Italy’s strategic interests in Europe, we need France because we have a series of completely aligned priorities,” said MP Lia Quartapelle, the center-Democratic Party’s foreign affairs contact point. left.

“Going against the French is the national sport of the nationalist right.”



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