Tuesday

17th Oct 2017

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".

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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.

Catalonia to declare independence in a few days

Spain's king, Felipe VI, said Catalonia's leaders were breaking up the country's unity as hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied against police violence at Sunday's referendum.

EU Commission's credibility eroding, says Catalonia

A former commission official who now represents the Catalan government says some European commissioners do not agree with the EU commission's official statement on Catalonia's bid for independence from Spain.

Austrian voters reject liberal status quo

Counting continues, but conservative leader Sebastian Kurz is likely to form a coalition with the far-right and could become one of the EU's most vocal critics.

Brexit 'deadlock' prevents move to trade negotiations

EU negotiator Barnier also said after the latest round of Brexit talks that with political will, progress can be achieved in the next two months - in time for the December EU summit to give the green light.

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