So close, so far: Italy and France must be friends now more than ever

“So close, so far away.” It is not the title of the famous film by Wim Wenders revised and corrected. It is the synthesis of relations between Italy and France that can be deduced from the events of the last few days. And upon closer inspection, there is something in the formula that goes beyond recent news, because since the Second World War, political and diplomatic relations with our neighbors across the Alps have never been taken for granted or easy. Therefore, to get an idea of ​​what is at stake today, it is not superfluous to draw on the reservoirs of memory.

The immediate post-war period, in the aftermath of the Second World War, could not bring anything good with it. Italy had been forced to sign an unconditional surrender and its own territorial unity was greatly threatened. France, thanks to the visionary foresight of De Gaulle, had instead redeemed the defeat of 1940 by miraculously finding itself on the winning side. The relationship between the two countries, therefore, was weighed not only by the outcome of the war but also by the memory of the “stab in the back” that Italy had inflicted on an already dying France, entering the field alongside Germany.

Given the assumptions, things didn’t go too badly either, also thanks to the ability of our ambassador in Paris who responded to the name of Giuseppe Saragat. We lost Tenda and Briga but, on the other hand, we received help from the French for the other borders under discussion.

Relations improved further with the advent of the Fourth French Republic. Not only for a certain similarity of our respective Constitutions and therefore of the political systems. Even more due to the importance that the Christian-democratic political family had in the government of the two countries, as well as due to the understanding that was established between men of the caliber of De Gasperi and Schumann: an understanding which, as is well known, also had its effects on the beginnings of the process of European unification. What’s more: in the continental context, not even the rejection of the European Army project, which took place in 1954 by the French Parliament, was enough to distance us. In Italy, in fact, the successors of Alcide De Gasperi – in the lead Fanfani – did not mind at all that the “cousins” had taken their chestnuts from the fire.

After that epochal defeat, European integration got back on track, with a significant contribution from Italy, above all in the Messina and Venice conferences. And the return to the scene of De Gaulle – certainly not a “Euro-enthusiast” – did not frustrate those efforts. The French economy, exhausted by a colonial war which had prolonged the world war without interruption, needed the Community market. And the General did not oppose its birth, for eminently nationalist reasons.

However, it happened that the European affair, on the impulse of De Gaulle himself, entered the deep groove of the Franco-German axis, also at the end of a conflict that had been going on since the last decades of the 19th century and which had fueled two world wars. And inevitably the new-found harmony between the two continental giants, so full of moral as well as historical-political meanings, ended up reverberating on Italy’s position. In fact, ever since the birth of the Europe of six, our country had found itself poised between being the smallest of the big ones or the biggest of the little ones. The axis between Paris and Bonn evidently relegated him to the latter position.

The different rank helped to amplify some structural differences between Italy and France which, depending on the historical contexts, have created complementarities or disagreements. In France, the State is one and indivisible, while Italy finds a strength in communities that base their wealth on autonomy. For a long time, the imperial “remnant” gave French Europeanism a different – more relativistic – figure than the Italian one. And the same national identity, expressed beyond the Alps in the vocation to cultural assimilation, has sought the way of the exception in Italy, as Karol Wojtyla noted with shrewdness.

From 1962 onwards – the birth date of the Franco-German axis – Europe would enlarge several times. In France there have been presidencies of the right, of the left and of the centre; in Italy governments of the centre, of the right and of the left. But relations between the two countries, generally friendly, have been exposed to recurring crises. To the point that the agreement of 26 November 2021 signed by Macron and Draghi – a text aimed at establishing a special relationshipknown as “the Quirinal Treaty” – seemed like an unexpected surprise.

Faced with unexpected crises and cracks in transalpine relations, Italy, in order not to remain isolated in Europe, has often sought the Atlantic shore and a special relationship with the United States. Even the chronicles of these days, on the other hand, would seem to re-propose this same pattern. At least in appearance. However, it seems to us that this time there is a difference that the new government would do well to evaluate carefully. The Russo-Ukrainian war – a real leap in the dark proposed to us by history – has in fact given value to the cohesion of the West as never before in the recent past. And in the search for this perspective, Italy has not been “the first of the little ones”. You have played an absolute leading role to the point of being able to say that Europe has held out because you have held up to now our country. Beyond all predictions.

However, this cohesion is still desperately needed. For this reason, any justifiable recrimination must be inscribed in this framework, also in order not to disperse what has been achieved so far in terms of international reputation. For reasons of national prestige. And also for others, even more important, of Western solidarity.

So close, so far: Italy and France must be friends now more than ever