Wednesday

17th Jul 2019

France and Italy quarrel over shipyard and Libya

  • French president Macron (l) tried to "dissipate any wrong interpretation" with Italian PM Gentiloni (r). (Photo: elysee.fr)

French president Emmanuel Macron called Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni on Thursday evening (27 July) to defuse tensions amid accusations of "colonialism" in Libya and economic "protectionism".

The call was "friendly", Gentiloni's office said, hours after his government had stated that a French decision to nationalise a shipyard was "serious and incomprehensible".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The French government decided on Thursday to "temporarily" take control of the STX shipyards, in Saint-Nazaire, western France, in order to block a takeover by Italian state-owned company Fincantieri, which was due to take effect on Saturday.

Macron rejected an agreement reached under his predecessor, Francois Hollande, that would have seen Fincantieri becoming the owner of 54 percent of STX's capital. He wanted the French state to own at least 50 percent, something Italy refused.

The STX shipyard, which is currently Marjory-owned by a South Korean company, builds cruise ships, but is also able to build warships.

Critics of the Italian deal pointed to Fincantieri's links with China and risks that sensitive French know-how and technology could end up in Chinese hands.

"We want to have all the guarantees that this know-how will not one day go to another big global economic power, a non-European one, to be precise," French economy minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday.

"This lack of trust in Italian partners is unacceptable," the Italian finance minister told French daily Les Echos.

But Macron, in his call to Gentiloni, tried to "dissipate any wrong interpretation" of his decision to preempt the shipyard, according to his office.

He said that the nationalisation was a "transitory decision during which talks continue in order to find an agreement … which would leave a large place for Fincantieri."

The spat over STX comes as France and Italy are also at loggerheads over the situation in Libya and how to manage the migration crisis.

On Tuesday, Macron hosted a meeting in Paris between the two main Libyan political leaders, Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar.

The two rivals agreed to a ceasefire and to elections next year, but Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano told La Stampa newspaper that "there are too many open formats in Libya, too many mediators, too many initiatives.”

'Improvised lines'

Italy, a former colonial power in Libya, has been very active in trying to end the war in the country, and Macron's initiative was considered by the Italian media as a "slap in the face".

And on Thursday, while the French government was announcing STX's nationalisation, Macron reportedly said that he was going to create "hotspots" to process migrants in Libya.

"France can't move forward with improvised lines," Alfano said, before Macron's office denied the reports and insisted that he only wanted to treat asylum requests as closely as possible to the migrants' countries of origin.

Alfano then said he "welcomed" the clarification.

Italy, which has received some 95,000 migrants so far this year, mainly from Libya, has been calling for its EU partners' solidarity.

Last month, it asked other EU countries to open their ports to migrants too, but French interior minister Gerard Collomb said this would create a magnet effect and insisted on "stemming the flow beforehand".

Italy's 'nuclear option' on migrants unravels

Media has reported that Italy may issue visas to migrants to allow them to travel further north. But the plan is unlikely to work due to EU rules underpinning such decisions.

Analysis

What did we learn from the von der Leyen vote?

The vote on von der Leyen showed the fundamental change in EU politics. The rise of the European Parliament, the power of political parties, and the fragmentation of politics, are new realities to be taken into account.

Von der Leyen's EU vote far from sure

Unhappy socialist and liberal MEPs could upset German's bid to be next EU commission chief, making an even worse mess in the top jobs system.

Von der Leyen vote the focus This WEEK

MEPs will vote to confirm - or not - on Tuesday the new commission president, Ursula von der Leyen - a candidate put forward at the last minute by the EU leaders, and grilled by lawmakers recently in Brussels.

Merkel and Macron split over Weber presidency

EU heads of government have their first face-to-faces discussions after the European elections on who should lead the EU commission. They are unlikely to decide quickly - with the parliament also divided over the candidates.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Poland 'optimistic' despite new EU law checks
  2. What did we learn from the von der Leyen vote?
  3. Is Golden Dawn's MEP head of a criminal organisation?
  4. Finland rejects call to end sponsorship of EU presidency
  5. MH17 five years on: when will Russia be punished?
  6. EU commission has first-ever woman president
  7. Son: Malta trial for murdered journalist 'not enough'
  8. Von der Leyen's final appeal to secure top EU post

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us