Macron Makes Peace With the Italian Leader He Never Fought With

(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to repair ties with Italy by hosting an Italian leader he’s never clashed with.

Macron and Italian President Sergio Mattarella Thursday attended ceremonies in the Loire Valley linked to the 500th anniversary of the death of Tuscan artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci. The visit was scheduled in February to stress the historical ties between the two countries as a way to repair relations strained by verbal sparring between Macron and leaders of Italy’s populist coalition government over issues ranging from migration to Libya.

“The links between our two nations and our citizens are indestructible,” Macron said as he greeted Mattaralla at Amboise, where Leonardo died in 1519 at the age of 67 while working at the court of French king Francis I.

But Mattarella, whose position is much more ceremonial than his French counterpart, has never joined the French bashing, and has even sought to curtail the euroskeptic tendencies of some members of the Italian government.

Macron has never met Deputy Prime Ministers Matteo Salvini of the League nor Luigi Di Maio of Five Star, the leaders of the two parties making up Italy’s eclectic coalition government and the source of much criticism directed at him.

Italian Populists

Italy’s government emerged from 2018 elections that swept out a mainstream government closely allied with Macron’s vision of greater European integration.

The 77-year-old Mattarella, who has served as a minister in various center-left governments and on the constitutional court, initially blocked the formation of the populist government, relenting only after the parties agreed to drop cabinet nominees deemed to favor Italy’s withdrawal from the euro.

The clashes between Macron and the coalition government began almost instantly, and mostly involved Salvini, who is also interior minister. Macron rebuked Salvini for closing Italian ports to humanitarian ships carrying migrants from Africa. But when Salvini’s popularity rose as he loudly pointed out Macron’s hypocrisy -- France refused to take in any ships itself -- Di Maio tried to get in on the French-bashing act.

France summoned the Italian ambassador in January after Di Maio blamed African emigration on French economic policies and then briefly withdrew its ambassador from Rome in February when Di Maio met with members of the Yellow Vests protest movements. It was after that last clash that Macron invited Mattarella for a state visit.

French officials say dialogue with Mattarella never ceased, and relations with Salvini and Di Maio have largely calmed down.

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