One of the main rules of diplomacy would be to avoid embarrassing another country in the middle of an international dispute. The fight should not affect the internal problems, especially of an electoral nature, that each one has within its borders. The newborn government of the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, however, did not take this element into account when last week, without any official communication from the Elysee, it thanked the French Executive for supposedly hosting one of the ships of the NGOs with hundreds of migrants on board that Italy refused to let disembark. Rome, in this way, shook off the pressure of several days, sending it directly to Paris and unleashing a storm between the two countries in which the President of the Republic of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, even had to intervene. The distance created, similar to the gap opened with Germany a few days earlier for the same reason and which was not remedied at the G-20 meeting in Bali, makes the climate between the Italian government and its main European partners more difficult.
Italy and France had mended their relationship after a troubled period with the populist governments of the League and the 5 Star Movement. But several chapters broke the harmony between the two countries: two episodes were especially damaging. First there was the extravagant trip by Luigi Di Maio, then Vice President of the Executive, to meet a group of yellow vests at a time when they were organizing street protests against Macron. Then, the tension grew aggravated with Matteo Salvini, also vice president and interior minister, on account of immigration and the closure of borders between the two countries. After a time of total rupture, the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, contributed to a rapprochement under Mario Draghi’s period as Prime Minister and the so-called Quirinal Treaty was signed. A privileged collaboration agreement that put an end to years of misunderstandings and suspicions. It must be the beginning of a new era. But it has only lasted a year.
Political scientist Roberto D’Alimonte believes that Meloni made a diplomatic strategy error last week by announcing that France would host the NGO’s ship ocean viking. “Maybe France’s reaction was exaggerated, but the way she did it was not the right one. Meloni did not take into account that Macron has the same debate with his constituents over the issue of immigration. And besides, he has a problem with her: Meloni is powerfully reminiscent of Marine Le Pen, even physically. And it bothers him and hurts him internally to appear as a weak leader before her, ”he points out. For D’Alimonte, in addition, the Italian Executive is exaggerating the anti-immigration positions to compensate for the immobility in other areas. “They have to give an impression to their constituents that they are going to do more than Draghi in this particular fight. In economic issues they will not be able and will not want to do much. That’s why I see a lot of rhetoric and token politics on the issue of immigration and vaccines. But in what counts, like the economy, the approach is very realistic and pragmatic”. So much so that the next budget law will contain practically none of the promises of the right-wing coalition in the campaign.
Meloni, who has 51% internal support on the immigration issue, promised not to touch a comma on Draghi’s international policy, but has altered the scheme of alliances in a single month. The enthusiasm with which the ECB governor regained harmony with the Franco-German axis (he was captured in the photo in a train carriage heading to kyiv last June with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Macron) now contrasts with the diplomatic silence that reigns between Rome and the two main powers of the euro zone. In addition, the rapprochement with Spain, cultivated by the governments of Giuseppe Conte, has also been diluted with the arrival of Meloni. Last week, in fact, Spain avoided signing the declaration of the Mediterranean countries promoted by Italy (Greece, Cyprus and Malta were also present) against the migration policy of the European Union. An absence that further highlights the out of focus position in which Meloni finds himself right now in Europe. “The danger of these movements,” diplomatic sources point out, “is that the president finds a perfect justification to approach the Visegrad countries [alianza política creada en 1991 e integrada por Polonia, Hungría, Eslovaquia y la República Checa]”. Another source, on the other hand, is less pessimistic: “France and Italy cannot live with their backs turned and the relationship will be restored sooner rather than later.”
The question, precisely, is whether the tension with Paris and the distancing of the other two partners is due to a confrontational strategy to satisfy a certain electorate or if it was a miscalculation resulting from inexperience. MEP Sandro Gozi (elected in France by the Renew group, to which Macron’s party belongs), who was Minister of European Affairs in the Matteo Renzi government and knows French politics perfectly, believes that “it is a lack of professionalism and absolute experience”. “France has lost confidence in Italy. It doesn’t make any sense to do it like that. Macron was in Rome, just the day after Meloni’s inauguration, and he did everything possible to see her and build a bridge to relations, praising the country enormously, ”he points out. For Gozi there is no doubt that “Italy has isolated itself with the latest movements, and even more seeing what Spain has done [en referencia a la negativa a firmar la declaración con el resto de países mediterráneos]”.
Meloni, however, has made up for those alleged mistakes with a well-constructed agenda at the latest G-20 in Bali. The Prime Minister of Italy has been seen in bilateral meetings with the President of the United States, Joe Biden; with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan; and with the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping. Three key meetings to mark the design of Italian alliances and focus its security and foreign trade policy. “It is true that the meetings were successful. But it is also true that they are part of the normal diplomatic activity of a country like Italy, a full member of the G-7″, the same diplomatic sources point out.
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