Migration crisis, Libya, future of Europe: the endless antagonism that France and Italy are facing

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci who died on 2 May 1519. President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella met with French president Emmanuel Macron on 2 May in Amboise, in the French Loire Valley, to visit the tomb of the Renaissance master who died in the French town.

The two Presidents took the occasion to emphasise the strong relations between France and Italy, two of the founding members of the European Union. “I am here to show the friendship between Italy and France,” President Mattarella said, as reported by Italian News Agency ANSA. But despite the official statement, the frictions between the two countries have never been so tough.

In February this year, France recalled its ambassador to Italy for consultations following the meeting between Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio and a representative of the Yellow Vests protest movement in Paris. It was the first time France had recalled its ambassador since the declaration of war between Italy and France in 1940.

Rome and Paris have been in political conflict during the migration crisis in Europe. Despite the claims of French President Macron to open Italian ports to NGO rescue vessels, France kept French ports unavailable for boats with hundreds of migrants on board, and French police pushed back migrants on the Italian-French border in Ventimiglia and Bardonecchia in northwest Italy.

But the main battlefield is Libya. France has been leading since 2011 a NATO coalition against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, one of Italy’s closest allies in North Africa, where the relations between the two countries never reconciled. Libya was a key partner for Italy for two reasons: Gaddafi was helping to keep control of the migration flows towards Italy and the Italian oil company ENI signed multi-million contracts to exploit the local natural resources. Then French President Nicolas Sarkozy destabilized the area by creating the chaos and a paradise for the human traffickers who want to smuggle migrants coming from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe. 

While Italy, the European Union, the United Nations are supporting the government of Gereral Fayez al-Serraj, who controls the Tripolitania, the area in north west of the country, France, alongside with Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, supports the government of General Khalifa Haftar, distancing itself from the common position of the International community for its own political and economical interest.

The Italian government also voiced discontent back in January 2019, when France and Germany signed the Franco-German Treaty of Aachen, which did not include other important EU member States, but intended among other things, to build a “common military culture” that “contributes to the creation of a European army.”

It would be good to know what position the European army that Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel wanted, would take in Libya since France supports a different bloc to the one supported officially by the European Union.

Cover pic: Shutterstock.com