The Irish Times’ point of view on a new Franco-Italian treaty: finding a common cause

The signing this week of a new friendship treaty between France and Italy reflects what could become a significant permanent change in the internal political dynamics of the EU and a subtle counterweight to German predominance. The Quirinal Treaty, which promises closer collaboration on everything from foreign policy to defense and culture, is similar to that signed between France and Germany in 1963, and marks the overcoming of a relationship recently troubled fueled by clashes over immigration to the EU. The nadir saw the recall in Paris of the French ambassador to Rome in February 2019.

The rapprochement was made possible in large part thanks to the warmer relations between French President Emannuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who overcame nationalist objections from his right-wing allies in the League.

The alliance, observers say, could facilitate a post-pandemic reform of the fiscal disciplinary structure at the heart of the EU, the Stability and Growth Pact, which aims to limit government deficits and debt and is currently suspended from cause of Covid. France and Italy want the rules to be relaxed in the face of opposition, in particular from fiscal conservatives such as Austria, Finland and the Netherlands. The Rome-Paris axis, say the two parties, has already borne fruit in the development of the massive recovery plan of Covid and in the Franco-Italian initiative, with seven other member states, on a revolutionary common debt instrument for union.

However, the pact is unlikely to dissipate all tensions between the two states, especially on the business front. For example, the alleged sale of an Italian arms manufacturer belonging to the state-controlled defense group Leonardo to a French rival is disputed within the Italian government. Critics say Italy would indeed help France rid itself of a major arms-making competitor while endangering Italian jobs.

France is the largest investor in Italy and the third seat of Italian subsidiaries. The two are each other’s second trading partners.

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