Italy, France to Bury Hatchet With a Cozy Dinner and No Salvini

(Bloomberg) -- For Giuseppe Conte, having Emmanuel Macron over for dinner at his Roman home in the 16th-century Palazzo Chigi is about drawing a line under Italy’s silly spat with France and jumping on a new political reality.

Back in February, Italy’s leading populists took turns baiting France to drum up votes ahead of European parliamentary elections. Macron responded by recalling his ambassador to Rome and relations were chilly for a while.

But now everyone is ready to move. Trouble-making Matteo Salvini has been sidelined after his naked power grab flopped spectacularly over the summer. Conte is back and anchoring a more centrist pro-European government. Macron is slowly supplanting Germany’s Angela Merkel as the bloc’s top power broker.

It’s time to join forces.

Conte, once an unknown law professor, has grown in stature and needs some political muscle ahead of a 2020 budget that could run foul of European Union’s deficit rules. He wants French help in pushing for flexibility and is lobbying to exclude investments from deficit calculations.

Does he have an ally in Macron in wanting a broader review of fiscal rules? France and Italy are both in charge of significant economic dossiers in the new Commission, a French adviser noted.

Loosening Up

EU members are discussing the idea of a common budget and measures to fight economic slowdowns, the official said, adding that European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has been increasingly vocal about the need for governments to step up and support their flagging economies with fiscal policy.

Over dinner, Conte will make the case Italy needs help on the front line of migrant arrivals from across the Mediterranean. In the past, Salvini’s threats to divert boats of migrants to France played well in the polls at home while straining relations further with its neighbor and a key trade partner.

Specifically, Italy wants French backing for both asylum-seekers and economic migrants to be automatically welcomed by EU states, with possible fines for members who refuse, according to a senior Italian official who declined to be named discussing confidential preparations for the meeting.

Macron also wants an automatic solution to distribute migrants, according to the presidential adviser, and to change an agreement that says asylum-seekers must make their request in the first EU country of arrival. France wants migrant ships to dock at the closest port, and is discussing the fate of economic migrants, insisting that they should be mainly sent home.

If economics and migration will keep the two leaders occupied for most of the three-course meal, there is plenty of shared business for them to untangle in the coming months from automobiles to finance and the media.

Renault-Fiat

Renault SA is no longer in talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV after a potential merger between the two rivals collapsed earlier this year. Still, both companies left the door open once the French company fixes its tense relationship with its Japanese partner, Nissan Motor Co.

Societe Generale-Unicredit

Societe Generale SA has no immediate plans for a merger with UniCredit Spa. The French bank is focused on its cost-cutting plans, according to a person familiar with the issue. But who knows, it could be tickled by the idea of a merger once the clean-up is done.

Vivendi-Mediaset

Earlier this month Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset SpA, Italy’s largest commercial television company, won shareholder backing for an initial move to create a pan-European broadcasting alliance and defeat efforts by its second-largest investor, Vincent Bollore’s Vivendi SA, to derail the plan. 

Vivendi-Telecom

Bollore faces a second blow this year, after stepping away from a battle with the U.S. activist investor Elliott Management Corp. to control Telecom Italia SpA, the country’s former phone monopoly.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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