France and Italy

Political relations and visits

Bilateral political contacts on international crises, European issues, and economic and cultural issues take place on a very regular basis. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi reserved his first European visit for France, where he met the President of the French Republic on 15 March 2014. Many contacts have taken place since then, particularly ahead of and during European Councils. Bilateral summits have also been held annually since 1982, the 33ʳᵈ and latest of which took place in Venice on 8 March 2016.

Mr Giorgio Napolitano, then President of the Italian Republic, made a State visit to France in November 2012, where tribute was paid 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 various working groups, such as on industrial and migration issues. The Secretaries-General of our respective 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 also maintain close dialogue in the G20/G7 framework. Italy, which hosts the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), plays an active role in promoting the issue of regulation of agricultural commodity prices. It also supports key French priorities, including financial regulation and strengthening the efficacy of the global institutional system. Italy remains highly committed to the informality of the G20 and to maintaining the key role of the G7, of which it will hold the Presidency in 2017.

Economic relations

France and Italy are each other’s second-largest trading partner (with €70 billion 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%). Much foreign direct investment (FDI) in Italy comes from France (accounting for about one fifth of the stock).

Our trade deficit with Italy, standing at -€5.5 billion in 2015, is our sixth-largest. Our bilateral trade balance is affected by an imbalance in certain key sectors such as industrial machinery and textiles. The market share of French products in Italy nonetheless remains stable at 8.6%, after falling for a whole decade. France is the leading investor in Italy, apart from Luxembourg and the Netherlands which are foreign investment platforms, with an FDI stock accounting for one-fifth of total international investment in the country €42 billion). Italy is the fifth-largest investor in France after the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. In total, there are almost 1,300 Italian subsidiaries in France, employing almost 80,000 people).

In Italy, French groups are as present in major retail (1,600 subsidiaries and 200,000 jobs) 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 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 sectors with a strong technological focus. It is in those areas, where Italy has extensive and world-renowned expertise, that the country is seeking international partners (aerospace, automotive components, chemicals, mechanics, telecommunications and information technology, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology).

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

France and Italy have long-standing, intense cultural relations. Italy remains a key cultural partner for France, where it is always present, through the organization of major seasons in 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 schools, including three secondary (Lycée Chateaubriand in Rome) and two middle schools. In addition, there are some 30 Alliance française branches. The “Palazzo Farnese Meetings”, held since 2005 in the form of seminars at the French Embassy, attract a large audience and illustrate the vibrant sharing 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 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 effectively promotes bilingual and bicultural education in Italy. This scheme involved 279 schools and 12,000 Italian pupils in 2015 and was expanded to the technological field in May 2016 through the signing of a new agreement in Florence. In the academic field, the 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 environmental data).

Cross-border cooperation

Cross-border relations between France and Italy are dominated by issues of transport and infrastructure, very often viewed in the framework of programmes co-financed by the European Union. Several major cross-border cooperation projects are emblematic of the bilateral relationship, including the Mont Blanc Tunnel which is the main crossing point in the Alps, linking Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (Haute-Savoie) with Courmayeur (Aosta Valley) since 1965, and the roughly 13-kilometre Fréjus Tunnel linking Modane (France) with Bardonecchia (Italy). The planned rail link between Lyon and Turin, initiated in 1996, is currently the Franco-Italian flagship project, with very ambitious objectives, both as regards the bilateral relationship (removal of the Alpine barrier) and at European level (development of the South Corridor). Environmental issues (modal shift from road to rail) as well as the economic benefits (jobs, taxation, tolls) explain the strong political mobilization around the railway line, the opening of which is planned for 2029.

Updated: 18 November 2016

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