French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday the need for “European solidarity” in the face of the coronavirus crisis, standing alongside the leaders of Italy, the European country most affected by the epidemic.
“In this special moment, I am very happy to be with our Italian friends,” said Emmanuel Macron upon his arrival in Naples for the 35th Franco-Italian summit.
“It is important to show that health measures are taken by each country with very close European coordination,” he added alongside Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. He thus recalled that the Ministers of Health of the European Union had met the day before in Rome.
Italy’s neighbors have decided to keep their borders open, although some politicians have called for tighter controls.
The Italian authorities have maintained the Naples summit despite the shock caused in the country by the brutal appearance, in recent days, of the epidemic of viral pneumonia which started in China in December.
With 528 cases of people positive for the virus and 14 deaths, the peninsula has become a dissemination platform for the rest of the continent. Rome has taken drastic measures by placing eleven quarantined cities in the North, in Lombardy and Veneto.
However, no sign of concern was palpable in the streets of Naples where Giuseppe Conte and Emmanuel Macron wandered without visible hygiene measures 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 has 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.
“Our children go to school. If our children go to school, then tourists and entrepreneurs can also come,” Di Diio told the foreign press in Rome.
For his part, Emmanuel Macron arrived in Italy after a last-minute visit to the Paris hospital where the first French victim of the coronavirus died on Wednesday. “We have before us a crisis, an epidemic that is coming (…) We will have to face it at best,” he warned.
“We continue to make the necessary decisions in light of what scientists and doctors tell us,” he said in Naples.
– Calm climate –
This 35th Franco-Italian summit, the first since that of Lyon (central-eastern France) at the end of 2017, was presented as that of “relaunching” bilateral relations after a period of tension.
For more than a year, Paris and Rome waged a war of words that 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 had castigated “nationalist leprosy””.
Relations have gradually calmed down since the advent, in September 2019, of a coalition government between the 5 Star Movement (M5S, anti-establishment) and the Democratic Party (center left), Matteo Salvini returning to the opposition.
Paris and Rome are now “on the same line” on many European issues, such as that of welcoming migrants to the Mediterranean.
At the summit – attended by 11 French and 12 Italian ministers – the two countries were to sign an agreement to support the Naviris joint venture, recently created by the Italian Fincantieri and the French Naval Group, and discuss the future of the Lyon-Turin railway line, which they hope to finance up to 50% with European funds.
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 were to 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.