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France and Italy sign cooperation pact as Merkel exit sets challenge for Europe

·2 min read

Italy and France have signed a treaty to strengthen bilateral ties and reinforce their strategic coordination within Europe, at a time when EU diplomacy is being tested by the departure of German chancellor Angela Merkel.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi put their names to the new cooperation agreement on Friday in Rome's Quirinale Palace.

With some added pomp to the ceremony, twin formations of planes – trailing smoke in the tricolours of the two nations – flew overhead following the signature of the pact.

Speaking at the event, Draghi told reporters: "The treaty ... marks an historic moment in relations between our two countries. France and Italy are further consolidating our diplomatic, commercial, political and cultural ties."

The signing ceremony came days after a new coalition pact was agreed in Germany, ending 16 years of rule by Merkel, who was the undisputed leader of Europe and forged especially close ties with successive French leaders.

Europe in a state of flux

The new Berlin administration is expected to be more inward looking, especially at the start of its mandate.

Both Paris and Rome are keen to deepen relations in a period clouded by economic uncertainty, the Covid-19 pandemic, a more assertive Russia, a rising China and a more disengaged United States.

Macron said the Quirinale Treaty, named after the Roman residence of the Italian president, did not challenge French relations with Germany, but was complementary and aimed at boosting all of Europe.

Amongst the goals laid out in the 15-page document was a pledge to reinforce military connections, even at an industrial level, and work in tandem to enhance Europe's defence capabilities.

President Macron underlined: "The objective we are following ... is to have a stronger and more sovereign Europe ... a Europe that knows how to protect its borders and defend itself."

Franco-Italian renaissance in relations

The treaty was originally meant to be signed in 2017, but negotiations ground to a halt in 2018 when a populist government took office in Rome and clashed repeatedly with Macron over immigration.

There has been a renaissance this year following the appointment of Draghi to lead Italy's unity government, and both men have met repeatedly in recent months, working closely on areas that were previous flashpoints, such as efforts to end years of conflict in Libya.

The Quirinale Treaty, loosely modelled on a 1963 Franco-German pact, will lead to Paris and Rome seeking common ground ahead of EU summits, just as France coordinates key European policy moves with Germany.

Draghi said both countries would launch "new forms of cooperation" in energy, technology, research and innovation. He added that at least once every quarter an Italian minister would attend a French cabinet meeting, and vice versa.

France and Italy also committed to working together in the space sector, and would facilitate "reciprocal investment" and define "common strategies in international markets".

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