Joachim Fritz-Vannahme
12. February 2019

Da Vinci 500 – A clash between Rome and Paris


Italy wants to turn the 500th anniversary of the universal genius Leonardo da Vinci’s death into a state event this year. The Paris Louvre

Photo by Irina Ledyaeva on Unsplash


plans to exhibit the painter in a big way around the Mona Lisa. The previous Italian government had already promised loans for this. The current populist government with vice-premier Luigi di Maio of the left-wing populist Five-star movement and interior minister Matteo Salvini of the right-wing nationalist Lega party wants nothing more to do with this.

The genius as a bone of contention – that’s what’s missing in the noisy clash that has preoccupied Rome and Paris for months.

Last week, President Emmanuel Macron withdrew the French ambassador in Rome. A unique event in the history of the European Union since its foundation in 1957.
By the way, the founding ceremony took place in Rome. Two of the six founding states were France and Italy. It’s been a long, long time…


Photo by Ilnur Kalimullin on Unsplash


The dispute has been about refugee policy for months. Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini has repeatedly prohibited the entry of rescue ships, he does not feel wrongly abandoned by the other Europeans. But he prefers to complain mostly to the French government, via Twitter or per interview: According to Salvini, France has rejected 60,000 migrants at its common border in the past two years.

Minister Luigi di Maio recently met in France with some yellow vest leaders, including Christophe Chalencon , who wants to chase Macron out of office through a military coup.

But when hundreds of thousands of Italians demonstrated against the Salvini/di Maio government in Rome last weekend, no minister was seen there. Trade union leader Maurizio Landini teased di Maio: he would like to meet with demonstrating yellow vests, but not with the local demonstrators. In fact, the provocative appearances and pithy words of the government in Rome are also supposed to distract from Italy’s poor economic situation.

A leading five-star politician declared that Paris, with its neo-colonial policy in Africa, was to blame for the flow of migrants to Europe.
Italy should rather deal with its own repressed colonial policy, the Italian-Somali writer Igiaba Scego (“Roma negata”) explained in Le Monde.

You don’t even have to look far back in history in the search for conflict. In the eyes of some Italian politicians, the Allied air raids on Libya in 2011 were less directed at the dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi than at the oil fields of the Italian company Eni. In recent times, Rome and Paris have also been engaged in a race for the next peace talks in disintegrating Libya. Here, too, it is about influence and prestige – and against each other.

Border conflicts have also repeatedly clouded bilateral relations since Italy was founded in 1861. At present the Italian government does not want to continue building the railway tunnel for the Lyon-Turin express route, which was contractually agreed in 2001.

With silence Paris has so far acknowledged Salvini’s demand for the extradition of Italian terrorists, some of whom France has offered refuge to for decades. So Salvini is not always on the wrong side of the matter. The extradition of the terrorist Cesare Battisti from Bolivia to Italy on 14 January of this year, who had fled since 1981, awakened in many Italians the terrible memories of the anni di piombi, the leaden time of terror in the seventies.
Allo me a side note: the Bruni Tedeschi family of industrialists and musicians also moved to France to be on the safe side. With them their little daughter Carla, later Carla Bruni the wife of French President Nicola Sarkozy. He did not act too vigorously against fleeing Italian terrorists either – in return, his party is said to have received around 50 million euros from Muammar al-Gaddafi’s hands for the 2007 presidential election campaign; the investigation is still ongoing.

France is Italy’s second most important trading partner; according to the Bank for International Settlements at the end of 2018, major French banks had claims amounting to 311 billion dollars. As a state, France, and not Germany, is also Italy’s largest creditor.

Trade does not protect against quarrel. In the past, both sides would probably have already mobilised their troops.
Today this is prevented by the bond of the European Union. For the time being.

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