France says Italy should leave the BRI and favour more democratic alliances
The situation concerning Italy and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched by China seems to interest more than just the two countries involved. The French government recently shared its views on the issue, claiming that Italy should prioritise alliances with ‘more democratic’ countries.
André Gattolin, a French senator serving as vice-chair of the European Affairs Committee for France, was quite vocal regarding the path Italy should take in an article he wrote for Politico. The main takeaway from Gattolin’s words is that Italy, according to France, should distance itself from China for various reasons that could threaten the democratic stability of the country as well as Europe.
It needs to be mentioned that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has always been quite vocal about her position against Italy being part of the BRI and her intent to not renew the deal. At the end of June, Meloni said that Italy and China can have a solid relationship even without the BRI agreement. However, not all members of the government coalition might agree.
‘Remaining in the BRI might threaten Italy’s security’
“If Italy wants to remain a respected democratic power”, mentioned Gattolin, then it should prioritise alliances with “G7 countries, the EU, and various transatlantic democratic allies”. As he stated, Italy and China do not share many values, making conflicts inevitable. Moreover, the French senator fears that Italian ports important for the whole EU, such as Trieste, Venice, and Genoa, might end up in Chinese hands, thus threatening Italy’s security.
Gattolin continued by stating that Italy must choose wisely when it comes to its decision to renew or stop the BRI agreement. This is because some Western democracies, as he defined them, might consider “the BRI as a Trojan horse for Beijing’s geopolitical interests”. Renewing the agreement, therefore, could cause damage to Italy’s relations with these countries as well.
Italy and the Belt and Road Initiative
Italy was, and still is, the first and only G7 country to sign an MoU with China regarding the New Silk Road. The agreement was signed by the government coalition led by Giuseppe Conte in 2019. It is planned to expire in March 2024 and Italy needs to make a decision on whether or not to renew it by the end of 2023. The MoU signed in 2019 did not lead to significant developments when it comes to effective transportation agreements. Not renewing the BRI agreement might therefore not lead to significant changes in terms of project development. Concerning China, a new ambassador was recently appointed in Italy: Jia Guide, the former Chinese ambassador in Peru. The choice of Guide for Italy may not be casual after all. In 2019, while working as an ambassador in Lima, Peru joined the BRI that Italy is planning on leaving.