The birth of the Franco-Italian Alliance: challenges and opportunities for Russia

MOSCOW, 29 Nov 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.

An important event for the future of Europe: on Friday, November 26, in Rome, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi signed the Quirinale Agreement on deepening bilateral cooperation on a wide range of issues. Until now, Paris had concluded an agreement of this type with Germany (2019, the Treaty of Aachen).

According to the French International Radio (RFI), the Quirinale Treaty foresees strengthening cooperation at various levels and in the widest possible range of areas. In particular, the agreement provides for annual joint meetings of governments, as well as regular participation of ministers of each country in government meetings of the partner country.

In foreign policy, emphasis is placed on “common initiatives” to “promote democracy, sustainable development, stability and security on the African continent”, as well as on strengthening EU ties with African countries.

In the field of defence and security –  on strengthening cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries and their interaction “wherever the strategic interests coincide” of France and Italy; strengthening the partnership between defence enterprises within the framework of “bilateral and multilateral projects”; cooperation in space “for security and defence purposes”.

Both countries “commit to work together to carry out a deep reform (…) of the European migration and asylum policy”. France and Italy confirm by the agreement their determination to develop cooperation between law enforcement agencies – on border protection (a mixed Franco-Italian border brigade), the fight against organised crime, and participation in international police operations, RFI notes.

This is what is on the surface. However, the Quirinale Treaty has serious political subtext. “The founding countries of the European Union, who signed the first (European) agreements (…), we stand for a more integrated, more democratic and more sovereign Europe,” Macron said during the signing ceremony of the agreement.

Worthy of note is the fact that the conclusion of the agreement took place almost immediately after the participants in the negotiations on the formation of a government in the person of the SPD, the Greens and the FDP, who won the recent German Bundestag election, announced the approval of a coalition agreement. One of its provisions states that Berlin will seek to federalise the EU and create a federal state – a kind of United States of Europe.

The question is who and under what conditions will lead this process – the Franco-Italian alliance or the Germans. Therefore, Germany paid the closest attention to the Quirinale Treaty. As the German newspaper Die Zeit notes in connection with its conclusion, “experts urge Germany to sign a similar agreement with Italy.” Tobias Mörschel, head of the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Rome, says that “if we want to move European integration forward, these three countries – Germany, Italy and France – must cooperate more closely.”

However, the French may have a different opinion on this issue. “The new Paris – Rome axis of power is capable of much more: It may well change the dynamics of leadership within the entire European Union,” emphasises Melvyn Krauss, Professor Emeritus of Economics at New York University. In his opinion, the Quirinale Treaty is a concrete result of the new cooperation between Macron and Draghi, designed to fill the gap created by the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“If they succeed in this, then the centre of influence in the European Union will shift to the south and towards strengthening European integration,” Krauss believes. “In this Draghi and Macron demonstrate full agreement, including on the critically important issue of European defence.

Both are confident in the ability of the European Union to act independently as a military force, while fully maintaining its obligations to NATO.”

And what does the Franco-Italian alliance mean for Russia, what challenges and opportunities can it bring to Moscow? Firstly, Macron and Draghi are people well known to the Russian leadership. In the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic, when the possibilities of physical contact are limited, the factor of personal acquaintance based on a long experience of relationships plays an important role. It’s what the new German authorities cannot boast of yet. If Olaf Scholz, who is applying for the post of Prime Minister of Germany, at least previously held the post of vice-chancellor in the Merkel government, then the likely future Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is a dark horse.

Secondly, the strengthening of the southern direction in Europe has the potential to bring certain benefits to Russia. Relations with southern European countries can generally be called positive. However, in the EU, they have so far lost to the Nordic countries. In this regard, attention is drawn to the recent telephone conversation between the Italian Prime Minister and Russian President Vladimir Putin. As reported, the parties discussed topical issues: the migration crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border, Ukraine and gas supplies.

But it can be assumed that it was also about the formation of a Franco-Italian alliance. This affects the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins. Today Moscow feels concerned by the Black Sea region due to the activation of Atlantic forces there in the face of the United States and Great Britain. As Putin said at a meeting of the expanded board of the Russian Foreign Ministry held on November 18, “as for the Black Sea, it generally goes beyond certain limits: strategic bombers fly at a distance of 20 kilometres from our state border, and they, as you know, carry very serious weapons.” And further:

“It is necessary to raise the question of seeking a provision of serious long-term guarantees to Russia in order to ensure our security in this area, because Russia cannot live in the way when it has constantly think about what might happen there tomorrow.”

Moscow would like to work together with European partners to develop a new security architecture in Europe. If Paris and Rome go for it, it will be a plus. However, firstly the Franco-Italian alliance must pass the test of time, and this is not a simple thing. The Italian opposition is already outraged that Draghi’s government did not consult with parliament about the conclusion of the Quirinale Treaty, and Macron faces a difficult presidential election campaign next spring.

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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