Italy and France sign Rome treaty aimed at changing EU power balance

Italian and French leaders drew a line under previous tensions between their countries as they signed a new treaty expected to shift the balance of power in Europe.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in Paris earlier in November. Photo: Ludovic MARIN/AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi put pen to paper at the Quirinale palace, the office of President Sergio Mattarella, on Friday.

An aerial acrobatic display by both countries’ air forces followed.

The deal is aimed at tilting the balance of power in Europe after the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to Italian government sources cited by Reuters.

The accord will boost cooperation between the countries on the economy and industry, culture and education, security, cross-border cooperation and foreign affairs.

READ ALSO: ‘We’ll miss you’: Merkel gets fond farewell in Rome

The project was first mooted in 2018 under Italy’s then-premier Paolo Gentiloni, but relations between Rome and Paris deteriorated after the election of the populist government of the League and the Five Star Movement.

At a press conference, the leaders of the two Mediterranean powers long bound by historical, cultural and linguistic ties emphasised their closeness, but also their joint commitment to the wider EU project.

Draghi called it a “historic moment”, which “intends to favour and accelerate the process of European integration”.

Macron said the treaty “seals a deep friendship”.

“Founding countries of the EU… we defend a more integrated, more democratic, more sovereign Europe,” he added.

Emmanuel Macron (L) and Mario Draghi shake hands after signing the Quirinale Treaty at Villa Madama in Rome on November 26th, 2021. Photo: Domenico Stinellis/POOL/AFP

The treaty was signed just weeks before France takes over the rotating EU presidency in January, and at a time of change on the continent.

Britain’s messy exit and rows between the EU’s liberal democracies and their eastern neighbours have roiled the bloc, while its de facto leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is finally bowing out following September elections.

Macron noted the two countries had had “difficult moments”, likely a reference to a diplomatic crisis in early 2019 when Italy’s then populist government openly criticised the French president.

Ties improved with a new government in Rome later that year and have gone from strength to strength with the arrival in office earlier this year of Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief.

Draghi thanked Macron for handing over former members of the far-left Red Brigades group that terrorised Italy in the 1970s and 1980s. Their safe haven for decades in France had been a long-standing source of tension.

There has also been simmering irritation in Italy over feelings it has been left by European allies to face tens of thousands of migrants from North Africa who arrive on its shores each year.

Draghi said both sides agreed on the need for a shared EU migration and asylum policy.

Member comments

  1. A ‘more sovereign Europe’ presumably requires a less sovereign France. They might even have to get that budget deficit under control .

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‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief.