Macron, Conte Stage Show of Unity in Rome, Signaling End to Feud

(Bloomberg) -- Emmanuel Macron and his dinner host Giuseppe Conte made a warm display of unity in Rome, pledging to work together to boost flagging economic growth across Europe and share handling of migrant flows to turn the page on recent clashes between their two countries.

The French leader, after initial talks at Conte’s official residence in the 16th-century Palazzo Chigi, described the France-Italy friendship as indestructible and underscored “our will to work together for the European project.”

Macron, Conte Stage Show of Unity in Rome, Signaling End to Feud

“Sometimes we disagree, we can quarrel, we can sometimes fail to understand each other, but we always find each other again,” Macron told reporters Wednesday, flanking Conte before a working dinner at the latter’s apartment.

Macron, who is gradually replacing Germany’s Angela Merkel as Europe’s leading player, is seeking warmer ties with Conte who now heads a more centrist, pro-European coalition. Conte’s populist deputies in the previous administration had picked on France before European parliamentary elections, prompting Macron in February to briefly recall his ambassador to Rome.

The newfound comity even extended into the potentially fraught terrain of the menu: The leaders’ meal twinned their nations’ cuisine, with dishes including salad with codfish and foie gras, marinated amberjack with olive paste typical of Provence and pesto, and croissant-flavored ice-cream.

‘Historic Ties’

Macron underscored his push for economic and fiscal stimulus in the European Union, paying tribute to the “courage and clear-sightedness” of the latest moves by Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank.

“Monetary policy since 2012 has done the maximum it could do to preserve the EU situation, avoid deflation and avoid the worst,” Macron said. “It is now for the EU heads of state and governments to take their responsibility in their own budgets and at the EU level decisions for a real policy of stimulus and interior demand.”

The French leader warned EU countries that coordinated stimulus action is needed as the continent is in “stagnation.”

Conte, who is seeking more flexibility and more room for investments for the 2020 budget while at the same time avoiding tensions with the European Commission, said he and his guest awaited efforts from “all Europe” to relaunch investments and “improve European economic governance which is indispensable for stability and growth.”

“The historic ties of France and Italy are at the foundation of the European project, and we have a common responsibility to relaunch Europe with more growth, more jobs,” Conte said.

‘Deeply Believe’

The Italian leader is also seeking French support to cope with migrant flows from across the Mediterranean. The Italian premier is under constant pressure from Matteo Salvini of the rightist League, who had ordered ports closed to migrant ships when he served as Conte’s deputy in the previous coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

Conte won an early victory with Macron’s backing for the automatic redistribution to EU states of migrants landing in Italy, although whether this should apply to both asylum-seekers and economic migrants is still under discussion. Italy wants possible fines for members who refuse.

Macron, who has made limiting illegal immigration a priority to shore up his electoral base, said he wants to change an agreement that says asylum-seekers must make their request in the first EU country of arrival. “I deeply believe the response to the subject of immigration is not in looking inward or in nationalist provocations, but in building effective European solutions,” Macron said.

The two leaders agreed to hold a bilateral summit, including cabinet ministers, in Italy early next year.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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