THE ever-closer bond between Emanuel Macron and Angela Merkel not only testifies that France and Germany, Europe’s two largest countries, have overcome a millenarian enmity: it reveals a jointly held contempt for Europe’s south, (in particular that represented by ‘the boot’, and its on-going tarantella). Ever since the Greek economic crisis, they have been hawking a two-tier system for the European Union: the wealthy, industrial north lording it over the comparatively less developed south that feeds it. Recently, those subterranean efforts burst out into the open, causing France to actually recall its ambassador to Rome.
Perhaps motivated by the fact that Paris denies that its border guards have been physically accompanying migrants caught on its territory back to Italy where they landed, and where European law says they must register, Italy’s right-wing Prime Minister Salvini also accused France of contributing to the migrant crisis by wrecking havoc in Africa. (In particular Italy has never forgiven France for participating in the overthrow of Libyan President Muammar Gadhafi, Libya having been an Italian colony before World War II. Most recently (illustrating the benefits of a coalition government) Italy’s Foreign Minister, a member of the bottom-up Five Star Movement founded by a street comedian (Beppe Grillo) paid a friendly visit to a group of Yellow Vests trying to take down the French government.
France’s ‘Jupiterian’ president Emanuel Macron could not let this pass: for the first time since France and Italy fought on opposite sides in World War II, he recalled his ambassador to Rome and France’s international channel, France 24, subjected di Maio to a no holds barred interview that illustrated the fundamental difference between the French and the Italian personalities. While the journalist could have been mistaken for an interrogator, di Maio’s answers were delivered with a wide-open smile. Not the diplomatic smile that any other foreign leader would have exhibited, but the spontaneous, everyday expression of one good faith person having a spirited discussion with another. Confronted with Cartesian rigor, De Maio seemed to be saying ‘C’mon, let’s have a drink, this was just a show of solidarity toward another “bottom-up” movement, not advice on how to topple your government.’
Macron disposed of the threat of direct democracy by organizing a series of encounters (broadcast live), in which local audiences tell him what changes they want and he explains why they cannot happen. His real problem with resigning is that it would prevent him from carrying out his life’s mission as the latest (or last?) avatar of Gaullian ‘rayonnement’, to deliver a modern Europeworthy of its illustrious history.
His partner in the European project, the wiser Angela Merkel, lets him do his thing, like any proud mother whose son tenderly held her hand as they together signed the treaty that Europe has needed since Charlemagne. Still she may realize that had it included Italy, representing the southern tier, it would have shown that Europe isn’t only about coal and steel, and that it really belongs to its people.
New Eastern Outlook, February 18. Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist who has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion