The night before his 74th birthday, Mario Draghi spent almost four hours with Emmanuel Macron on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean.
During a sea bass dinner in the port city of Marseille, the former head of the European Central Bank compared the banknotes to the French president, who has become the most aggressive advocate of European Union integration. As the clocks struck past midnight on September 2, the waiters came out with a cake Macron had ordered. The advisers waiting on the sidelines for them to finish applauded.
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The tete-a-tete is a sign of the deep bond that has formed between the two leaders since Draghi became Italy’s prime minister in February. With Angela Merkel preparing to step down as German Chancellor after some 16 years in power, the two men have a chance to fill the void and exert more influence over EU policy in everything from economics to defense.
Draghi has spent nearly 10 hours in bilateral meetings with Macron, more than with any other Group of 20 leader, and they informally agreed to speak before key summits to coordinate positions, according to people familiar with the matter. On Friday they will discuss the future of Libya at a conference in Paris.
“Draghi and Macron really agree on European integration, including fiscal union,” said Nathalie Tocci, visiting professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School and director of the Institute for International Affairs in Rome. “That is their baseline, it fuels the convergence between them. In this they could be the new post-Merkel center of power, and it could be extended to other fields related to the economy such as the green and digital agenda ”.
The two leaders agree that the EU’s monetary policies should remain expansive in the coming years, and their aim is for Merkel’s successor, likely Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, to agree with this as well, according to government officials. who asked not to be identified.
On the foreign policy front, Draghi returned Italy to a more traditional Euro-Atlantic stance, and that in turn could lead to more Italian-French activism, according to Tocci, who is also a former adviser to the former EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini. .
The two leaders’ views on China and Russia are also converging, and they are aligning more closely with Libya. They came up with the idea of hosting a conference to discuss ways to stabilize the North African country during one of their first meetings, an Elysee official said. The meeting will be attended by the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris.
As he prepares to assume the rotating EU presidency, Macron will need all the help he can get because he has distanced himself from other European leaders.
To be sure, Macron and Draghi will not have the EU stage all to themselves, with Poland as the main player in the troubled east of the bloc and the Netherlands are not fans of fiscal largesse. Germany under Scholz and her new coalition partners may not be as serious as Merkel, but they will surely want to prevail at the European level.
If the two leaders want to transform their cordial relationship into concrete achievements, there is no shortage of places to start.
An alliance with Fincantieri Spa and Chantiers de l’Atlantique to create a global shipping powerhouse agreed to by the two governments in 2018 was scrapped earlier this year, at least in part because the companies couldn’t agree on how to work together. Then there is Italy’s Avio Aero and France’s Safran, vying for the lucrative contract to build Eurodrone engines.
Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported on Friday that Macron and Draghi have already held talks about a possible offer from the Franco-German holding company KMW + Nexter Defense Systems for the units of Leonardo Oto Melara and Whitehead Sistemi Subacquei (WASS).
The differences over sub-Saharan Africa are significant. A diplomat praised Italy’s significant involvement in the French-led Takuba force fighting Islamist extremists, but stressed that Rome’s reluctance to impose sanctions on the Malian junta hampers lobbying efforts. The official also said that Macron and Draghi have different views on Ethiopia and Somalia.
Relations were not always so fluid between Italy and France.
The coalition government that emerged from the 2018 Italian elections wiped out a dominant administration allied with Macron’s vision of greater European integration. The fighting began almost instantly.
Luigi Di Maio, then Italian deputy prime minister, blamed the African emigration on French economic policies and met with members of the yellow vest protest movement, a thorn in Macron’s side. The other Italian deputy prime minister, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, often argued with Macron about migration, once calling him “an educated young man who drinks too much champagne.”
At one point, the grudge threatened to derail costly art exhibitions planned to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death: The Italian painter died in France and some of his most famous works, including the Mona Lisa, are in Paris.
Historically, the French have had a tendency to slightly look down on Italians and that changed with Draghi, a diplomat said.
Macron’s admiration for Draghi was already evident in 2019 when he delivered a farewell speech to him at the ECB. The French president praised Draghi’s vision, ethics and intellectual authority, comparing him to Konrad Adenauer, the first West German chancellor, and Robert Schuman, considered one of the fathers of Europe.
After the two met in person in Brussels this June, the bond began to form.
“The fact that Draghi came from that corner of the forest, the economy, meant that it was easier to see Macron as a natural partner,” says Tocci. “The way Draghi sees the world is more oriented to the economy than to foreign policy. For Macron, there is someone here who not only wants to rebuild the relationship, but also has the credentials. ”
© 2021 Bloomberg