Italy and France Batter Each Other in the Latest Populist-Globalist Fight

Tensions between the two countries are at their highest point since the days of Mussolini.

When one thinks about France and Italy, the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, the grand avenues of Paris, and fine cuisine come to mind. What doesn’t come to mind is political trench warfare. And yet that is precisely what French and Italian political leaders have been participating in for close to a year now. The French government of President Emmanuel Macron and the populist administration of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte have been punching each other in the nose over a litany of issues in a brawl over which at least Conte has very little control.

There is no love lost between Macron and Italy’s two rambunctious deputy premiers, the right-wing Matteo Salvini and the leftist-populist Luigi Di Maio. Macron is a politicians’ politician, someone who attended France’s elite Sciences Po university and entered French political society at a very young age. His world is one of industrialists, politicians, ministers, and influencers snacking on caviar courtesy of the taxpayer. The 41-year-old French president is a gifted orator and an engaging presence when he wants to be. His politics are strictly centrist and pro-business. He was swept into office with 66 percent of the vote partly because he was seen as a non-ideological technocrat who wasn’t beholden to the country’s political parties.

Salvini and Di Maio live in a whole different universe. While Salvini has been in politics for years, he has been effective at fashioning himself as an everyday Italian who eats pizza, spreads Nutella on his bread, and takes shirtless selfies on the beach. He’s also incredibly ambitious and clever, knowing how to take issues that grate on a large segment of the Italian population and turn them into votes. In a span of five years, his League party has been transformed from an asterisk (4 percent of the vote in 2013) to a national political force (just under 18 percent of the vote in 2018). Its numbers have only gone up since it formed a coalition with the Five Star movement, nearly doubling in popularity.

The battle between Paris and Rome is as much about personality as it is issues like illegal migration, EU regulatory reform, foreign policy, and even the artwork of Leonardo Di Vinci. Lock Macron, Salvini, and Di Maio in a room, and they’re more likely to pummel each other than to pursue agreement on a shared problem. When Salvini calls Macron “a terrible president,” and Macron in turn refers to populist Italian politics as a “populist leprosy” on European society, it’s hard to envision the bilateral spat dissipating any time soon.

In fact, it may get worse before it gets better. The words are becoming sharper, the tone is becoming more undiplomatic, and the positions are becoming more irreconcilable. For the first time since the fascists ruled Italy during World War II, France has pulled its ambassador from Rome. Paris did this last week to protest Di Maio’s powwow with the anti-Macron yellow vest demonstrators who have shaken the French capital every weekend since last November. The fact that the Italian deputy prime minister was on French territory when he met with the movement was likely seen as a humiliation that Macron couldn’t ignore. Di Maio has yet to apologize and doesn’t seem to have any intention of doing so.

To the European Union, having two founding members throwing rhetorical grenades at each other is not a great look. The commissioners and ambassadors in Brussels are all about unity and consensus. That’s the whole point of the EU: to ensure nationalism doesn’t get out of control, the European family of nations doesn’t break apart, and the continent is an international player on par with the U.S. and China.

These days, it’s looking more like the EU family is living in an unhappy home, and that the parents are about ready to separate.

Daniel R. DePetris is a foreign policy analyst, a columnist at Reuters, and a frequent contributor to The American Conservative.

Hide 4 comments

4 Responses to Italy and France Batter Each Other in the Latest Populist-Globalist Fight

  1. polistra says:

    This probably won’t matter much. Macron has 20% approval and constant riots. Salvini has 70% approval and happy crowds cheering him.

    Macron is almost as self-destructively stupid as Maduro, which makes it hard for even the Sorosians to spend much effort defending him.

  2. Mark B. says:

    It’s saber rattling in the run-up to the elections for the European Parliment in may. Salvini has been busy doing it the past year where ever he could in Europe. Macron-Bonaparte is a not-to-miss target of course. At least Salvini did not wear a yellow vest (I believe).

  3. Kouros says:

    While, Macron, and France in general is trying to follow the same script as the US talking about liberal values, freedom, etc., in order to maintain the status quo, he and his ilk, and France’s elites are just ordinary thugs trying to maintain their power and extend it as much as possible. The big game is still on and France’s elites want to further their goal:

    – The excesses of the Revolution were caused by the excesses of the nobility and the inefficient and corrupt tax system. Everyone wants to be a rentier and live on other people’s work, then and now.
    – The first black republic on earth was brought to its knees and to ist present entirely despoiled state by the blockade launched by the Republican France against its former slaves: the “reparations” demanded to “compensate” the land/slave owners were paid only more than 150 years later.
    – Indochina, Algeria, Syria, West Africa (where still the old French Franc is used and controlled by Paris). France has said that if US leaves Syria, their troupes will continue to stay. Libya, and its oil and water works in the south, immediately gobbled by French business.
    – And Italy and others are bearing the brunt of French sky high hypocrisy.
    Praise the yellow vests! The fall always comes due to too much rot found within.

  4. Michael Kenny says:

    This website’s usual line: destroy the EU, prop up Putin and pretend that China doesn’t exist.The actual dispute is over people that the present Italian government regards as terroriste and who were given political asylum in France many years ago. Italy now wants them back. That certainly sounds like posturing in the run-up to the European Parliament elections. The fact that both Salvini and Di Maio have got involved indicates the deep rivalry that exists between their two parties and that the famous North-South split in Italy is alive and well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *