The New Italian Wars

8 February 2019

It’s back to the Renaissance: France and Italy are at war. Will we witness a new Battle of Marignano, where the French were victorious, or a Battle of Pavia, where they weren’t? In case you missed the news that prompted this question, France has recalled its ambassador to Italy after a series of attacks on Emmanuel Macron, first by Matteo Salvini, then by Luigi di Maio. Frictions between European partners are hardly unusual, but rarely do they reach the level of an ambassadorial recall.

What’s going on? Among the commentariat, it’s common to say that di Maio and Salvini have both found fun and profit in France-bashing and are playing out their own domestic rivalry at France’s expense. Di Maio even traveled to France to meet with Gilets Jaunes in Montargis without informing the Quai d’Orsay, a breach of diplomatic protocol. One might even say it was almost as egregious an insult to France as Manuel Valls’s denunciation, on German soil, of Germany’s immigration policy was to Germany.

Are these cross-border skirmishes and incursions into the domestic politics of partners really as illegitimate as the latest French response would suggest? These theatrical thrusts and counterthrusts are obviously a part of the European election campaign. Macron chose to cast himself as the leader of the “progressive” camp against “nationalists” like Salvini and Orban and Le Pen, so it cannot come as a surprise that this internationalization of the European campaign has now triggered blowback.

And arguably this is a good thing. European politics cannot assume a continental dimension, as the progressives would like, unless the debate itself becomes transnational and political campaigns spill over national borders. Cross-border campaigning should not be ruled out of bounds. Rather, it should be encouraged.


Image Credit: Alexandre Evariste Fragonard, Francis at Marignan, via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.


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  • Robinson says:

    Nevertheless: this action of Macron’s is silly. He has denounced Salvini and di Maio in pretty round terms, even if he didn’t use their names. He intends to campaign quite explicitly against them and their allies in the Euro election. They pay him back in kind, and he resorts to a gesture last used in 1940.

    Macron ought to take a page form Merkel’s book and be less mercurial than the people he wants to cast as excitable extremists.

  • FrédéricLN says:

    Well, Macron dit not exactly saying “nationalists” but “nationalist leprosy”. People rarely appreciate to be compared to diseases. He also qualified the Italian policy of “cynical” and “disgusting”, litt. “to vomit”. Talking this way implies you hope nothing from your counterpart, and rather invest in those who hate you (e.g. the French media have been over-critical of Lega and M5S, constantly taking for granted what NGOS or Democratic opponents said, as far as I saw). On the other hand, Macron is the perfect foe in Italian politics, “the symbol of classy pomp, arrogance, condescension, and everything that has failed before in Italy”, according to the interviewee in

    Now, I guess both governments obtained the emotional coup they were looking for, and might forget the topic. The same interviewee says that Macron and the present italian coalition share the image of having “promised to change (things), and in the end not having changed anything”.

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