TIT LIST of things that France and Italy have argued over the past decade or so have ranged from serious to ridiculous. Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi scrapped migrants passing from Italy to France. When the yellow vests Emerged in France, Luigi Di Maio, then Deputy Prime Minister, offered his support to the protesting oil tankers. “The winds of change have crossed the Alps,” said Mr. Di Maio. France responded by driving its ambassador back across the Alps to Paris in protest. In Libya, Italy and France found themselves supporting opposing sides in a civil war at the gates of Europe. An Italian minister even complained that the French were trying to pretend Leonardo da Vinci was French and that they were misspelling his name to add insult.
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Such rows disappeared last year. Comfortable dinners have replaced diplomatic slang. In September, President Emmanuel Macron and Mario Draghi, the Italian Prime Minister, chatted after midnight during a four-hour meeting at Petit Nice, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Marseille that offers a set menu at € 590 ($ 665 ), wine included. . The populist agitation of French politics by Italian politicians is a thing of the past, replaced by Mr Macron and Mr Draghi violently in agreement. To cement improved relations, Mr. Macron and Mr. Draghi were to sign a long-standing Franco-Italian treaty as The Economist went to press. The treaty will cover everything from mainstreaming defense to migration to incentives for young people to experience the beautiful France and The good life.
The model is the Elysée Treaty, which the French and German governments signed in 1963, and which has since formed the backbone of relations across the Rhine. Such comparisons may seem exaggerated. Burying the hatchet after a continental war is more important than reconciling after non-diplomatic diplomacy. But this is ignoring the speed and cynicism that led to the signing of the Elysee Treaty. Charles de Gaulle saw the document as a way to drive a wedge between Germany and America. This had not been mentioned at a meeting between the German and French leaders the previous month. Indeed, it was mounted in such haste that a German diplomat had to rush to Hermès in Paris to find a suitably large leather folder for his signature.
Because such treaties often deal with something else. If the Franco-German treaty was really about America, then the Franco-Italian treaty was about Germany. Or so say officials from other countries, observing closely. Each party in the new German government gives France something to worry about, whether it is the weak defense policy of the Social Democrats, the frugality of the Free Democrats or the virulent nuclear opposition of the Greens. . France needs options and Italy is good.
A glimpse of the potential for a Franco-Italian rapprochement came in 2020, when a joint push on common debt – a French and Italian dream, but a German nightmare – prompted the German government to abandon its long-standing opposition to the idea. The departure of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats from the government throws the EUpower relations in flux. But no matter how much things improve between France and Italy, Germany will remain France’s main ally. An agreement acceptable to both France and Germany is probably acceptable to most EU countries; an agreement acceptable to Italy and France can fight for support beyond the Mediterranean. Any major policy change requires Franco-Italian perseverance. But he still needs German permission.
Instead, a more equal relationship between the EUThe three largest countries are the most likely outcome of the treaty. Germany is the EUand France is the most dynamic politically, at least under Mr. Macron. But Italy is the most consistent. Whether Italy, the club’s third-largest economy, can return to real growth after decades, will determine the club’s economic health. How Italy is coping with the post-Draghi era, as polls suggest nearly half of Italian voters will support Lega (far right), the Brothers of Italy (further right) and Forza Italia (the vehicle of the ubiquitous Mr. Berlusconi) will shape the club’s politics. An Italy capable of shaping EU debates, such as more flexible spending rules or on migration, is better placed to address both issues.
Treat me well
For Italy, the treaty says more about itself than about its links with France. While working at the Italian Ministry of Finance, Mr. Draghi worked on preparations for euro membership. Justification was one of the he vincolo esterno, the external constraint: tied up in the monetary union, Italy would no longer suffer from self-inflicted problems such as high inflation. Now a technocratic politician rather than a political technocrat, Mr. Draghi has followed a similar strategy in government. Under Mr Draghi, Italy has maximized its € 190 billion share of a € 750 billion stimulus fund, promising sweeping reforms that will take years to implement. If Italy wants the money, it must continue to follow the policy set out by Mr. Draghi, whoever is responsible for the show.
Another constraint is an agreement with France. With a treaty in place, a serene bureaucratic relationship should continue even in the midst of the most stormy politics. Both Mr. Draghi and Mr. Macron know they won’t be here forever. Their successors can pass Mr. Sarkozy for Zen and Mr. Berlusconi for statesman. Mr Macron faces elections in the spring. Meanwhile, Mr Draghi is still coy as to whether he will stay on as prime minister or try to become president of Italy, floating above Italian politics – less of a politician than St Mario, the patron saint of the credibility of the bond market.
Treaties are not infallible. A sufficiently determined future government could let the arrangements wither, or tear them up altogether. After signing the Franco-German treaty in 1963, de Gaulle saw his hopes of driving a wedge between Germany and America dashed by the German parliament inserting a flowery dedication to NATO. The general shrugged his shoulders: ‘Treaties, you see, are like girls and roses: they last as long as they last. Sometimes, however, it is really long. ■
Read more from Charlemagne, our columnist on European politics:
Last of the Commies (November 20, 2021)
Minimum wage, maximum rage (November 13, 2021)
Why Britain is such a noisy neighbor (November 6, 2021)
This article appeared in the Europe section of the paper edition under the title “The Franco-Italian trade”