Le président de la République italienne Sergio Mattarella avait reçu son homologue français Emmanuel Macron à Rome le 24 octobre 2022.

Emmanuel Macron receives his counterpart Sergio Mattarella at the Elysée on Tuesday in the name of the “exceptional ties that unite” the two countries. Exceptionally bad ties since Giorgia Meloni came to power last October. Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna had to go to Rome to restore a “climate of trust” after controversial remarks by Gérald Darmanin. If misunderstandings can be dispelled, mistrust remains.

Cultural diplomacy of Sergio Mattarella

Sergio Mattarella is going to the Louvre this Tuesday for the inauguration of the “Naples in Paris” exhibition. The Capodimonte museum has loaned some sixty of its greatest masterpieces to the Parisian museum. Culture is once again at the service of re-establishing a constructive Franco-Italian dialogue.

“Mattarella resumes his diplomatic stick, recalls Jean-Pierre Darnis, specialist in Franco-Italian relations at the University of Nice. In 2019, he went to France for the commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, thus helping to renew relations between the two countries which had reached their lowest level since the end of the second world war. Then as now, he conducts a diplomacy parallel or even opposed to that of the government in place. »

Art is not always an obvious middle ground. Sergio Mattarella will be accompanied by the very nationalist Minister of Culture Gennaro Sangiuliano. He castigates the category of foreign directors of major Italian cultural institutions, including the Frenchman Sylvain Bellenger at the head of the Capodimonte museum in Naples. He also presented a few weeks ago to the management of the Louvre a list of 248 works, looted during the Napoleonic period and still held by French museums, whose restitution Italy is requesting.

Structural tensions

“We are witnessing an unprecedented phenomenon of the structuring of a perpetual state of crisis between Paris and Rome”, notes Jean-Pierre Darnis. Investments by large French groups in strategic sectors of the transalpine economy such as banking, insurance, telecommunications or even luxury regularly arouse reflexes of economic patriotism on this side of the Alps.

The political instrumentalization of the migration issue over the past decade has rekindled tensions. The periods of calm, marked by the good understanding between Emmanuel Macron and the presidents of the council Paolo Gentiloni or Mario Draghi, thus alternate with those of more or less latent aggressiveness when the tenant of Palazzo Chigi is the populist Giuseppe Conte or the nationalist Giorgia Meloni.

The Quirinal Treaty

Franco-Italian relations, particularly in the economic field, have never been so dense. The Quirinal Treaty entered into force on 1er last February, represents a significant step towards the institutionalization of the bilateral relationship on the model of the Franco-German couple. “The Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense and Industry have already set up new bodies to deepen their mutual understanding and cooperation,” says Jean-Pierre Darnis. But this mechanism is not yet fully functioning. However, there is an awareness of its importance for improving bilateral governance. »

Relations between Emmanuel Macron and Giorgia Meloni are certainly tense but far from the mutual ostracism that reigned when Matteo Salvini was the strong man of the government in 2018-2019. “We are no longer in a rejection but in a competition for the European election next year, notes Jean-Pierre Darnis. Giorgia Meloni is playing the standardization card to make her group of conservatives respectable in the Strasbourg parliament. By going to Paris Sergio Mattarella opens the way for him. She should go there by the summer on a date that has not yet been fixed.