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Italy vs Macron

Italy vs Macron

What is Italy's Deputy PM doing in Paris, and why did France just recall its ambassador from Rome?

"The winds of change have crossed the Alps." So said Italy's populist prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, this week after meeting with representatives of the French protest movement known as the "gilets jaunes."



Di Maio told reporters that his party and the French protesters share "many common positions and values that focus on the battles for citizens, social rights, direct democracy and the environment." The French government's reaction was predictably harsh: "This new provocation is not acceptable between neighboring countries and partners in the European Union."

This is just the latest point of contention between the Italian and French governments. In recent months:

  • Italy's Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, has pushed back several times against French criticism of his country's refusal to accept ships carrying Middle Eastern refugees. Last month, Salvini charged that "In Libya, France has no interest in stabilizing the situation, probably because it has oil interests that are opposed to those of Italy."
  • Di Maio went further: "If people are leaving Africa today it is because some European countries, led by France, have never stopped colonizing tens of African states."
  • An Italian lawmaker extended the feud into the cultural arena this week by suggesting her government cancel the loan of paintings and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci scheduled for exhibition in Paris. "Leonardo is Italian," she reminded reporters. "He only died in France."
  • Much of the Italian criticism is focused directly on French President Emmanuel Macron. "I don't take lessons on humanity and generosity from Macron," Salvini said recently. He has also blamed the French president's policies for the "gilets jaunes" protests. "Macron reduced taxes for the very well-off and increased them for those less well off," Salvini explained.
  • How did France explain its decision to recall its ambassador from Rome? "For several months France has been the subject of repeated accusations, unfounded attacks and outlandish claims," explained the French foreign ministry.

What's happening here? Perhaps Italian officials are simply stung by Macron's criticism of its immigration policies and want to signal they won't be pushed around. But there may also be a more sophisticated political calculation at work.

Both parties in Italy's coalition government—Di Maio's Five Star Movement and Salvini's Lega—rouse crowds and win votes with noisy attacks on the EU. Last year, a high-profile standoff with the EU over Italy's national budget ended with an embarrassing Italian retreat.

Maybe, beyond their personal dislike for Macron, Di Maio and Salvini now see an opportunity to score points at the EU's expense by avoiding direct confrontation with Brussels in favor of political attacks on the man most closely associated with support for centralized European power.

Irony alert: Di Maio and Salvini are hoping to strengthen the role of populists with wins in May's elections for the European Parliament. But if they're also hoping to weaken (the already unpopular) Macron at home, support for the "gilets jaunes" might not be the smartest way of doing it. These protesters are pulling support away from France's far-right and far-left, and their movement has already splintered into five separate political parties. You can't punish a president by fragmenting his opposition.

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Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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