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Bilateral political contacts on international crises, European issues, and economic and cultural stakes take place on a very regular basis. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi reserved his first European visit for France where he met the French President on 15 March 2014. Many contacts have taken place since then, notably in parallel with European Councils. The French Minister and the French President again met the Italian Prime Minister recently, respectively on 30 May and 21 June 2015. Bilateral summits are also held annually: the 32nd one and latest of those took place on 24 February 2015 in Paris.
Mr Giorgio Napolitano, when he was President of the Italian Republic, made a State visit to France in November 2012 which made it possible to pay tribute to the exemplary career of this strong believer in Europe, who showed great moral and political authority when he was at the helm of Italy. His successor, Mr Sergio Mattarella, was received in Paris by the French President on 30 March 2015.
In addition, the administrations of both countries have developed forms of cooperation structured by setting up different working groups. The Secretaries-General of the two countries’ foreign ministries meet annually to assess the situation and set the guidelines for actions undertaken in that framework. The two Secretaries-General last met in Paris on 10 February 2015, ahead of the 32nd bilateral Summit.
The two countries are also holding a close dialogue in the G20/G7 framework. Italy, which hosts the United Nations’ food and agriculture hub, hence plays an active role in promoting the issue of regulation of agricultural raw material prices. It also supports the key French priorities, particularly in terms of financial regulation and of strengthening the efficacy of the global institutional system. Rome remains highly committed to the informality of the G20 and to maintaining the key role of the G8.
France and Italy are each other’s second-largest trading partner (with €67 billion worth of trade in 2014). Italy is the leading market for French agrifood product sales and a leading outlet for French exports of mechanical equipment (15.6%) and chemicals (14.4%). Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Italy originates mostly from France (accounting for about one-fifth of the stock).
With a bilateral trade gap of minus €5.4 billion in 2014, Italy constitutes our 6th largest trade deficit. Our bilateral trade balance is affected by a trade imbalance in certain key sectors such as industrial machinery and textile. The market share of French products in Italy nonetheless confirms that it tends to stabilize at 8.6% after falling for a whole decade. Trade relations between France and Italy are accompanied by investment flows that are structurally unbalanced in France’s favour (France is the leading investor in Italy, apart from Luxembourg and the Netherlands which constitute foreign investment platforms).
In Italy, French groups are as present in large-scale distribution as in the energy and banking sectors. Regarding industry, France has a strong position in the capital goods and intermediate products sectors. The energy sector accounts for about 10% of French investments. The service sector accounts for almost three-quarters of French FDI stocks in Italy, of which close to 30% for insurance and banks. Regarding major contracts, the nuclear partnership between France and Italy was largely emptied of its substance after the referendum held in Italy in mid-June 2011, which confirmed the complete stop put to restarting Italy’s civil nuclear programme.
Generally speaking, the most interesting opportunities for partnerships are offered today by those sectors with a strong technological content. It is in those areas, where Italy boasts an extensive and world-renowned know-how, that the country is seeking international partners (namely in the following industries: aerospace, automotive components, chemicals, mechanics, telecommunications and information technology, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology).
Cultural relations between France and Italy are long-standing and intense. Italy remains a special cultural partner of France where it is always present, through the organization of major Seasons in different artistic areas including cinema, dance, theatre and music. Our action is supported by prestigious institutions such as the Villa Medici, the French School in Rome and the Jean Bérard Centre in Naples. The educational network consists of five institutions, including three secondary schools (Lycée Chateaubriand in Rome) and two middle schools. In addition, there are some 30 Alliance Française Teaching Centres. The "Palazzo Farnese Meetings", organized since 2005 in the form of seminars at the French Embassy, attract a large audience and illustrate the vigorous debate of ideas between France and Italy.
French is the second most studied language in Italy after English, although the Italian education reform implemented in 2010 has made teaching a second foreign language in middle school optional. An agreement regarding deliverance of dual high school diplomas (Baccalaureate and the Esame di Stato or ESABAC) was signed in 2009 and now successfully promotes bilingual and bicultural education in Italy. In the academic field, a Franco-Italian University (UFI) was created in 1998 to promote exchanges of teachers and students, encourage initiatives of common interest in training and research, and facilitate access to international and community programmes for Franco-Italian cooperation actions.
Space cooperation is structured by an intergovernmental cooperation agreement (2007). This agreement was supplemented by statements regarding the preference for European launchers (commitment by Italy to use European launchers "wherever possible" and subject to the prices charged by the provider), and regarding the GMES Space Component programme (joint support for a satellite programme designed to collect data on environmental security).