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France and Italy form new front on industrial policy

France and Italy “strongly support” a European Sovereignty Fund for industry, softer state aid rules and prioritizing ‘Made in Europe’ for government contracts, according to a joint industrial policy declaration agreed on Friday.

French Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and Italian Industry Minister Adolfo Urso in Rome backed the European Commission’s proposal to establish a new fund, noting that it should “at first” be financed “with existing available funding.”

They pledged to draw up “a joint proposal” to speed up European Union efforts, showing how France has turned to Italy as an ally to push for more EU money to support industry. Le Maire last year signed a similar document with Germany with no mention or support for a fund that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wants to table this summer. Germany has been cool on efforts to set up a new fund.

The Paris-Rome pact comes after weeks of disagreements between the two on industrial policy files and a long-standing Franco-Italian industrial rivalry.

“The declaration is a turning point in the history of our industrial and economic relations,” Le Maire told reporters in Rome.

Earlier this year Rome loudly warned against a French push to relax state aid rules and criticized French and German economy ministers for traveling together to the U.S. to ask for more transparency on subsidies.

Tensions heightened at an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels last month, when Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for not inviting her to a dinner meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris.

Friday’s meeting in Rome between Le Maire, Urso and Italian Economy and Finance Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti was the first one under a new Franco-Italian consultation format mandated by a new bilateral treaty.

Le Maire told reporters that Italy and France have also agreed to cooperate on the use of nuclear energy for industrial purposes. A French economy ministry official said that a dedicated working group will be set up. There is no mention of nuclear cooperation in the declaration.

Italy has no active nuclear plants after Italian citizens decided to shut down them down in a 1987 referendum. Supporting nuclear would be a major change to Italy’s energy mix over the past three decades.

Source : Politico