Italy versus France: Europe's brawlers

The dispute between France and Italy escalated. The damage has both countries - and the EU. Only the long-term campaigners of the five-star movement he is located.

Giuseppe Conte has an important date in Strasbourg on Tuesday. Italy's Prime Minister wants to discuss the future of Europe with members of the European Parliament and some Commissioners. He will have to face the uncomfortable questions that currently plague many Europeans, above all: What is the aim of the Zoff between the EU partners France and Italy?

One has already said in advance what he thinks of the neighborhood dispute - without any words: Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker unfortunately has no time to listen to the statements of Conte. Manfred Weber (CSU) is also pretty clear.

The chairman of the conservative EU parliamentary group and possible successors to Juncker said recently: "Italy should stop investing with Paris, Berlin and Brussels because of their own economic problems and rather put themselves to account for responsibility."

One thing is clear: Conte will not have it easy in Strasbourg. Especially since he has nothing to offer. Although he sits nominally in the Roman Government Palace on the executive chair, but the decisions are made by the two Vice-premiers - the head of the right-wing national Lega, Matteo Salvini, and the spokesman of the populist five-star movement Luigi Di Maio. And: The two politicians are largely responsible for the dispute with France.

Aggressive conflict between Paris and Rome

At the beginning stood the refugee policy: around the turn of the year, the government in Rome refused to let rescued rescued refugees from distress on land. The people had to spend more than two weeks aboard a much too small ship on the sea. The consequence:

  • French President Emmanuel Macron described this approach as "irresponsible" and "cynical".
  • Luigi Di Maio countered this with the accusation of "French neocolonialism" in Africa, which had forced migration.
  • Macron answered in his own way. He basically ordered the parties to the dispute: in "Progressive", ie countries like France, and in "populists", like Italy.

Although the French President did not mention Italy by name, it was obvious that he was targeting the government in Rome. Especially as he added that "the" - so populist politicians as Di Maio and Salvini - now "grow as leprosy" throughout Europe, even where you would have thought, "they would never come back".

The French television showed pictures of Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán with Salvini. He did not let this statement sit on it and said he hopes that the French will soon veto their "very bad president". Italy's President Sergio Mattarella then called for moderation. With a little success:

  • Premier Conte evoked the "historic friendship with France",
  • Foreign Minister Moavero Milanesi spoke of "friends, allies",
  • and even Salvini promised improvement.

Only Di Maio and his five-star movement remained tough. Macron is her "political enemy". At the beginning of February, Di Maio also visited representatives of the French "yellow vests", including Christophe Chalencon, with three of his leading MEPs. The 52-year-old blacksmith is known as right-wing Macron opponent and wishes the French chief of staff at the head of the state - otherwise "the civil war in France is inevitable".

"Yellow vests, do not let up!"

Di Maio explained that among the "yellow vests" he felt "the same spirit" as in his five-star movement. He would like to include the French protest group in his future group of parliamentary groups - a project that Di Maio has been dealing with for a long time and for which he has so far mainly promoted in Eastern Europe. In parting he said: "And you, yellow vests, do not let up!"

Macron was horrified. He called the French ambassador in Rome. There is no harsher diplomatic reaction than this. The last time Paris withdrew its ambassador to Rome was in 1940. In Italy, the fascists of Benito Mussolini and their German allies had already raided Poland. More clearly, a government can not show its anger. But Di Maio also took that on rather relaxed.

Five-star movement loses approval

The reason: The dispute with France is not inconvenient for him. He faces several regional and local elections. In addition, the European elections will take place in May, the outcome of which may lead to the end of the Roman Lega Star coalition. However, Di Maio's movement is losing popularity among Italian voters:

  • In the regional elections in Abruzzo at the weekend, the star leader experienced a debacle. Instead of 40 percent, as in March last year, voted only 20 percent of the electorate for the protest movement. She fell from first place to third.
  • About the replacement Di Maios is now openly discussed. He knows he desperately needs an enemy image, against which he can fight - supposedly in the name of Italy. Otherwise his populism will not work.

That's why he's looking for a fight with Macron. Especially since the rivalry between France and Italy has been smoldering for some time, for example in Libya: Both governments are trying to secure the largest possible share of the rich oil resources with the help of allied militias. And France's allies on the ground are currently on the rise.

Berlusconi warns about the economic consequences of the dispute

Alone: ​​The cost of a dispute with France - both politically and economically - huge. After Germany, France is the most important trading partner for Italy. The mutual trade brings Italy a surplus of 6.7 billion euros, the two economies are closely intertwined. Nevertheless, there are already serious first cracks in bilateral relations:

  • The rescue of the heavily indebted airline Alitalia by the entry of Air France and Delta Airlines is once off the table.
  • A meeting of prosecutors from the interior ministries of both countries to inspect new extradition requests from Rome - for example, to ex-terrorist Italians living in France - was canceled.
  • The planned Franco-Italian alliance of shipbuilders Fincantieri and Chantiers de l'Atlantique is on hold.

Even Silvio Berlusconi is alarmed. "We are all affected by what the Star Movement is doing to the country," he said recently. His company has in recent days "lost over 100 million euros in value".