Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron to Naples (Italy) on Thursday for a summit intended to “revive” bilateral relations, which is disrupted by the coronavirus crisis that is hitting both countries.
Emmanuel Macron arrived in the early afternoon in the big city of southern Italy with a large delegation of 11 ministers, who were to meet with Giuseppe Conte and a dozen members of the Italian government for this first summit since 2017.
This half-day meeting was maintained by the Italian authorities despite the spread of the viral pneumonia epidemic that started in China in December, which attracted attention both in Rome and in Paris.
Emmanuel Macron went in the morning to the Paris hospital where the first French victim of the coronavirus died the day before. “We have before us a crisis, an epidemic that is coming (…) We will have to face it at best,” he warned.
For their part, the authorities in Rome have taken draconian measures, including the quarantine of 11 municipalities in the North, the country’s economic lung.
Paris had explained Wednesday that it was “important to be present” alongside the Italians and to “cooperate” in this “difficult context”.
No sign of concern was palpable in the streets of Naples where, under a beautiful spring sun, very few locals or tourists wore protective masks.
Present in Naples, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio also called on foreign tourists not to flee the peninsula, regretting that the information presents all of Italy as a risk zone when only a few zones are concerned.
Emmanuel Macron began his visit by going to two cultural places (a theater and a chapel) in Naples, a “very special city, which (he) is expensive”, according to his remarks made on the first public channel Rai Uno in March 2019.
– Calm climate –
No Franco-Italian summit has been organized since that of Lyon (central-eastern France) at the end of 2017, an absence which testifies to the period of tensions experienced by the two “Latin sisters” of Europe.
Indeed, for more than a year, Paris and Rome waged a war of words which culminated in the temporary recall of the French ambassador to Italy, the most serious transalpine diplomatic crisis since 1945.
The former Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right party, had targeted Emmanuel Macron, whose “arrogance” and “hypocrisy” he castigated immigration.
For his part, Emmanuel Macron had made Matteo Salvini his “main opponent” in Europe and castigated “nationalist leprosy”.
Relations have gradually calmed down since the advent, in September 2019, of a new coalition story government between the 5 Star Movement (M5S, anti-establishment) and the Democratic Party (center left), Matteo Salvini returning to the opposition.
“We can work well with this government”, according to a source with the French presidency, because “we share many convergences”, in particular on European policy.
Thus, Paris and Rome are now “on the same line” on the reception of migrants in the Mediterranean, on which the two capitals were head-on.
The two countries will sign an agreement to support the Naviris joint venture, recently created by the Italian Fincantieri and the French Naval Group. The Lyon-Turin rail line, which they hope to have funded up to 50% by European funds, or the future mega-alliance between the car manufacturers PSA and Fiat-Chrysler will also be discussed.
Another subject of friction recently, the Libyan case is now the subject of an “alignment”, according to the French presidency, between Paris and Rome, who are working to revive the naval mission Sophia, now focused on control of the arms embargo on Libya.
Messrs. Macron and Conte should confirm their desire to sign in the coming months the Quirinal Treaty (name of the seat of the Italian presidency), announced in 2017, to give “a more stable and ambitious framework” to Franco-Italian cooperation, on the model of the Franco-German treaty.
The summit will end with a gala dinner with President Sergio Mattarella.