The Quirinale Treaty
Post-Merkel power balance in Europe?
After years of diplomatic tensions, Italy and France, the two biggest economies in the European Union after Germany, have signed an enhanced cooperation treaty. On November 26, the leaders of the two Mediterranean powers long bound by historical, cultural and linguistic ties not only emphasised their closeness but also their joint commitment to the wider EU project by signing a new treaty. Meant to spur closer collaboration on everything from foreign policy to defence and culture, the 60-page Quirinale Treaty mirrors a Franco-German deal from 1963.
The Treaty of Quirinale, which has been named after the Italian presidential palace in Rome, where the treaty was signed, marks an historic moment in relations between the two countries. Under the treaty, which will have to be approved and ratified by both National Parliaments, the two countries will establish a joint civil service, a cross-border cooperation committee to tackle irregular migration. It also provides for political coordination mechanisms, including intensified consultations and inter-ministerial coordination, particularly during crises and close to strategic deadlines. Moreover, an annual intergovernmental summit will be held, and at least once every quarter. The treaty also provides for the invitation of ministers to cabinet meetings of the two countries on the model of the Treaty of Aachen between France and Italy.
The Quirinal Treaty was first envisioned in 2017 when Paolo Gentiloni was Italian premier, and Emmanuel Macron spoke of deepening European integration. The diplomats set out to write the draft, but progress ground to a halt in early 2019, during Giuseppe Conte’s first government, when a diplomatic crisis ensued over some of its members’ support for the anti-Macron Yellow Vests protests (French: Mouvement des gilets jaunes). Mr Conte’s second government brought about the distension of ties and reinvigorated the process. And under Mr Draghi’s leadership, Italy and France have grown increasingly close. What’s more, with the UK out of the EU and Angela Merkel’s exit, the juncture seems suited to strengthen a Franco-Italian entente and increase both countries’ weight within the bloc.
Now the project has been revived under Macron and Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister. With the former European Central Bank president at the helm in Rome, Italy’s nationalist-populist impulses have been so tamed that even the League favours the treaty.
Both countries wanted to conclude this treaty before the departure of Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who is at the end of his seven-year term — ending in January 2022 — and ahead of the 2022 French presidential election.
The Quirinale Treaty will unfold on the following key strategic areas:
Industrial cooperation: Joint projects for the development of start-ups, small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large companies. Strengthening of bilateral industrial collaborations and promotion of joint initiatives for the enhancement of strategic European value chains (e.g. semiconductors and hydrogen) and industries (e.g. space). To this end, a consultation forum has been set up between the competent Ministries.
Digital sovereignty: Deepened cooperation in strategic areas for European digital sovereignty and transition, such as cybersecurity, cloud, artificial intelligence, data sharing, connectivity, 5G-6G, digitalization of payments, better regulation and integrated governance of the digital sector and cyberspace at European and international level.
European Affairs: Regular mutual consultations and coordinated action to develop a common approach within the EU, especially on budgetary strategy, industry, energy, transport, competition, labour and the fight against corruption.
Social policies: Improving working conditions and pay for all workers, including platform workers, guaranteeing an adequate minimum wage, and fostering skills development. Supporting policies for full equality and women empowerment.
Ecological transition: Implementing multilateral instruments relating to both sustainable development and environmental and climate protection, to help achieve climate neutrality by 2050, within the commitments of global agreements and the UN 2030 Agenda. Focus is on: renewable energies and energy efficiency, protection of biodiversity, sustainable blue economy for the Mediterranean and developing sustainable tourism.
Food and agriculture: Fostering the resilience, and sustainable transition of the agricultural and agri-food system, while ensuring the food sovereignty of the European Union. France and Italy will also promote measures to prevent food waste, and projects in the field of agri-food chains and organic farming.
Migration: Supporting a European migration and asylum governance and integration policies based on the principles of shared responsibility and solidarity between Member States, through a regular consultation mechanism between the two countries.
What it entails?
The Quirinale Treaty entails the creation of a strategic alliance between two countries that have strong relationships and common interests given that Italy is France’s second largest trading partner, and the economic systems have a very strong degree of integration. There are as many Italian companies operating on the French market as there are French companies operating in Italy.
According to the Elysée, this treaty “will promote the convergence of French and Italian positions, as well as the coordination of the two countries in matters of European and foreign policy, security and defence, migration policy, economy, education, research, culture and cross-border cooperation.”
Tilt in Europe’s power balance?
For much of the post-war era, Germany and France were the dynamos of ever-closer European integration. Yet, Italy, under Prime Minister Mario Draghi, wants to shake up that cozy twosome and try to tilt the balance of power in Europe in the post-Merkel era.
This deal is potentially a historic power shift that is underway in Europe. Angela Merkel, the most important political leader in continental Europe since she assumed office in 2005, is out of the scene now. With her exit, a multitude of views have emerged across the continent on the future of the Brussels-based club. The Quirinale Treaty, therefore, represents an opportunity for Paris and Rome to increasingly shape this debate. Scenarios in the next decade range from the EU retreating, post-Brexit, to no more than the current economic Single Market which seeks to guarantee freedom of movement of goods, capital, services and people. At the other end of the spectrum, however, is a quite different future for the continent, where the non-UK 27 member states decide to do much more together, potentially reigniting European integration, which is favoured by Macron if he can win a second presidential term next year.
While the direction of the EU is still so uncertain, what is clear is that Draghi wants Rome to have a larger bearing on events, hence the treaty. For he knows, like Macron and indeed Olaf Scholz (the new chancellor of Germany), that the next few years could have an outsized impact in defining the economic and political character of the bloc — not just in the second half of the 2020s, but potentially well beyond.
There are some beneficial synergies as well. Italy’s geopolitical status is heightened by closer association with France — which has a seat on the United Nations Security Council and is the EU’s only nuclear power. Corporate tie-ups already exist — and are likely to continue. Auto and automotive parts manufacturing is increasingly Franco-Italian because of Stellantis NV, the mega-marriage of Peugeot and Fiat Chrysler. Pharmaceutical companies are now often trilateral, sprawling across Italy, France, Germany.
Italy and France have signed this treaty to strengthen bilateral ties and reinforce their strategic coordination within Europe. With the departure of German chancellor Angela Merkel, the new administration in Berlin is expected to be more inward looking, especially at the start of its mandate. This provides a rare opportunity for France and Italy to lead Europe. Both countries should ride this unique political momentum, domestically and inside the EU. Doing so could even strengthen the fortunes of each government, helping them see off the political challenges coming their way. Opportunities exist deriving from France’s EU presidency and by Draghi’s personal political standing and international recognition. The newly repaired Franco-Italian engine has the potential to integrate the Franco-German one and to tackle some of the major issues of the day, including strengthening European sovereignty and responding to the climate emergency.