Macron and Meloni seek "convergences" in immigration after months of incidents and rudeness | International
Eight months of diplomatic incidents and rudeness between Emmanuel Macron and Giorgia Meloni have closed this Tuesday at the Elysée Palace with an effort to show their harmony on issues ranging from the economy to Ukraine. Even on immigration policy, the French president and the Italian prime minister have avoided displaying the differences that have led to repeated disagreements between Paris and Rome.
The meeting between Macron and Meloni lasted one hour and 40 minutes and took place face to face and without advisers. Although it did not serve to bury mutual misgivings, it "allowed the creation of convergences" between the two countries in the face of "common challenges" such as immigration, according to a source at the Élysée, who requested anonymity. The adviser repeated the word "pragmatism" several times to describe the president's attitude towards the Italian leader.
Macron declared in an appearance without questions with Meloni prior to the meeting: “There are still dramas in the Mediterranean. We must organize more effectively asylum and immigration in Europe, being true to our values. Coordination between our countries must continue.” Meloni added: "We cannot accept that access to our home is organized by criminal networks and for that it is necessary to cooperate to help African nations develop, to live off what they have, to give their children an opportunity, that is, to guarantee the right not to have to emigrate”.
The meeting is not the first between Macron and Meloni: both have met at European and international summits and the Frenchman was the first to visit the Italian the same weekend that she was sworn in, in October 2022. But Yes, it is the first official and bilateral meeting between a leader who, upon coming to power in 2017, presented himself as a retaining wall against the access of the nationalist and populist right in Europe, and another who embodies the full normalization of the ultra-conservative current in the halls of power of the European Union.
Macron said at the hearing: "What matters to me, first of all, is [la] friendship [franco-italiana], the one that sometimes brings controversies and disagreements to life, but always a respectful framework, because it is part of a history that is bigger than us, deeper”. Meloni added: "Italy and France are two linked, important, central nations, protagonists in Europe, which need, particularly at a time like this, to dialogue, because common interests are many and converging."
The “controversies and disagreements” that Macron was referring to can be summed up in one point: immigration. The first clash between the two occurred in November, when Meloni had been in the Chigi palace for 20 days and rejected the landing on its shores of a ship with immigrants, finally welcomed by France. "We regret that Italy has not lived up to its duty of humanity," said the French Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, who had become the main battering ram of Paris against Meloni's Italy. “France”, added Darmanin, “will draw all the consequences of the Italian attitude in the other aspects of its bilateral relationship”.
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From that moment on, the relationship between Paris and Rome developed on two parallel planes. When it came to immigration, sparks flew. On all other issues, the ministers cooperated fruitfully. But the background was the mistrust between Macron and Meloni mixed with the will to preserve what the Italian has called before the press "the interests (...) many and convergent".
The second clash happened at the beginning of May, when Minister Darmanin declared: "Mrs. Meloni, an extreme right-wing government elected by friends of Mrs. [Marine] Le Pen is incapable of fixing the immigration problems for which she has been elected." The minister's argument was that Meloni's difficulties with the management of migrants who arrive through the Mediterranean is a demonstration that, when he comes to power, the extreme right breaks his promises and fails. Although the National Rally of Le Pen, leader of the first opposition party in France, has marked distances with Meloni and does not belong to the same political group in the European Parliament, both are located in the orbit of the nationalist right.
The relationship with Rome is seen in Paris in an internal key. Any success of Meloni can contribute to the normalization of Le Pen as an alternative. At the same time, Italy, as a neighboring and southern country, is an ally of France against Germany in battles such as the fiscal rules of the euro, and Meloni agrees with Macron in his position favorable to Ukraine and NATO. There is also an internal key in Rome: the president of the Council must take care of her right flank, since she has Matteo Salvini in her government, who starred in several clashes when he was Minister of the Interior in 2018 and 2019, and whose discourse on immigrants is more aggressive than Meloni's.
Following Darmanin's statement in May, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said that "offenses (...) towards Italy are unacceptable" and called off a planned visit to Paris. The preparations for this Tuesday's meeting at the Élysée have been plagued by protocol tensions, reports La Repubblicaaggravated by another circumstance: Meloni was visiting Paris to promote Rome's candidacy for the 2030 World's Fair, and Macron supports Saudi Arabia's candidacy.
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