After years of diplomatic tensions, France and Italy sealed a historic pact of friendship and cooperation on Friday.
French President Emmanuel Macron made the trip to Rome to sign the “Treaty of enhanced Franco-Italian cooperation” with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
In the presence of Italian President Sergio Mattarella, the signing ceremony was accompanied by an overview of the acrobatic team of the Italian Air Force.
Draghi hailed “a historic moment in the relations between our two countries”, during a joint press conference with Macron.
“It was almost an anomaly not to have this Quirinal treatise before because so much unites us – our stories, our cultures, our artists,” Macron told reporters.
He noted that the two countries were “founding members of the European Union” defending “a more integrated, more democratic, more sovereign Europe”.
This decision will have “an important symbolic value” in a European context marked by instability after Brexit and the political transition in Germany, said an Italian government source ahead of the signing ceremony.
The pact will also aim to tip the balance of power in Europe following the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an Italian government source told Reuters news agency.
It comes almost 60 years after a Franco-German treaty signed by Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle gave new impetus to the process of European integration.
Can the new Franco-Italian pact reshape the European Union in the same way as its Franco-German ancestor?
Here’s what we know so far about the deal and its possible implications for Europe.
What is the pact about?
Named after the palace of the Italian presidency in Rome, the “Quirinale Treaty” was announced in 2017 to give “a more stable and ambitious framework” to Franco-Italian cooperation
Paris and Rome wanted to conclude it before the departure in January of Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who is coming to the end of his seven-year term, and in view of the French presidential election in 2022.
According to the Elysee, this treaty “will promote the convergence of French and Italian positions, as well as the coordination of the two countries in terms of European and foreign policy, security and defense, migration policy, economy, education, research, culture and cross-border cooperation. “
“What we do know is that there will be 11 chapters covering many different topics ranging from internal issues such as youth and research to European cohesion and foreign policy”, said Mathilde Ciulla, coordinator of the program at the European Council of Foreign Relations in Paris before the publication of the details of the agreement.
“It is therefore essentially a matter of institutionalizing and structuring the partnership between France and Italy,” the expert told Euronews.
“Obviously, the two countries have been working together for quite a long time, but the Franco-Italian relationship did not have what the Franco-German relationship had with the Elysée Treaty. So I think it is a question of structuring the relationship. and trying to match that level of cooperation, ”which is“ long overdue, ”she added.
The Elysee published the full agreement Friday morning.
Among the flagship measures are, for example, “a new cooperation between our naval air groups”, a mixed border police brigade and a joint Franco-Italian civic service for young people from 2022.
From the crisis to the “honeymoon”?
The treaty will also help ease recent tensions between Rome and Paris.
A series of disputes have strained transalpine relations in recent years, especially after the formation in 2018 of a populist government led by the 5-Star Movement and the far-right League party.
The crisis culminated in early 2019 when the Vice-President of the Italian Council, Luigi Di Maio, met in France with a leader of the protest movement of “yellow vests”.
Shortly before, the Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini had called for the resignation of the French president.
In protest, Paris has temporarily recalled its ambassador to Italy in what has become the most serious diplomatic crisis between the two neighbors since 1945.
Italy, for its part, claims that Paris has left it alone in managing the flow of migrants disembarking on its coasts.
Rome also criticized Paris for having sheltered former members of the extreme left “Red Brigades” who had taken refuge in France. But Macron put an end to the doctrine of the Mitterrand era by ordering their arrest last April.
The two countries have fully restored their ties under Draghi, whose pro-European and centrist views join those of Macron.
From now on, “we are in full honeymoon between Paris and Rome”, declared the historian Marc Lazar, professor at Sciences Po.
“There are a lot of points of convergence at a time when Germany is between two waters,” he told AFP.
But some in Italy remain suspicious of their European neighbor, which is sometimes perceived as a greedy business partner.
At the start of the year, the failure of the takeover of the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard by the Italian group Fincantieri disappointed Rome.
For some Italians, the French have an appetite for Italian companies but sometimes they have difficulty accepting reciprocity.
The treaty therefore aroused criticism in Italy. Economist Carlo Pelanda, writing in Starmag magazine, called it “self-annexation to France, industrially and strategically”.
Ciulla told Euronews that neither Rome nor Paris were “naive”, with issues such as migration set to remain sensitive topics.
But the treaty offers a “commitment to work together”, she added, ensuring that tensions will not degenerate to the point of recalling ambassadors.
What does the pact mean for the rest of the EU?
A positive result of the pact would be that “the countries of the south are listened to more”, Ciulla said. “And I think France can help do it because it is closer to certain southern countries like Italy, Spain or Greece.”
“On economic concerns, for example, or on migration, the French can help and bring this to the frugal states” of northern Europe, continued the expert.
She insisted that the new alliance was not against Berlin.
“I think Germany is quite happy that this is happening because it has always insisted that the Franco-German relationship is really important, but the EU is not just about the Franco-German relationship,” Ciulla said. at Euronews.
“Ms Merkel is still in office today,” Macron said on Friday, insisting that France “was not looking for” alternative paths “to Franco-German relations after her departure.
The European Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni greeted on Twitter a treaty which “strengthens the whole of the European Union in a phase of historic transition”.
This decision could also “be viewed positively in small states, showing that France is not just about Germany and that France recognizes the importance and opinion of other states”, Ciulla said.
“But again, it’s always about communication. You know, France has not always been very good at communicating its initiatives and explaining what it is doing. So perhaps this new treaty should also be accompanied by a great initiative to communicate with others: ‘We are the ones who reach out, ask for collaboration and are open to forming coalitions.’ “
Ultimately, the fate and importance of the new treaty will largely depend on the outcome of the upcoming elections on both sides of the Alps, with the two countries due to hold presidential elections in the coming months.