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Eroding Italian-Franco ties could ‘shake
very foundations’ of European Union

by Eric J. Lyman ROME (Xinhua) -- Relations between Italy and France continued to deteriorate this week, after France recalled its ambassador to Italy and issued a statement comparing relations between the countries to when they were on opposite sides during World War II.

The Italian coalition government headed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has continually clashed with the European Union since taking power last June. And according to Raffaele Marchetti, an international relations professor and director of the Research Unit on Political Risk Analysis at Rome’s LUISS University, provoking France has acted as a proxy for that opposition.

The war of words between Rome and Paris started last year, over the issue of immigration.

France criticized the Conte government’s closed-door immigration policies, while Italy said France had a "colonial" attitude toward Africa and that it should do and pay more to help resolve the problem.

But the high-profile standoff between the two countries—both among the six founding members of what evolved into the European Union—reached a new intensity this week.  The spark came when Luigi Di Maio, head of the populist Five-Star Movement and one of Conte’s deputy prime ministers, met with anti-government "gilet jaune" (yellow vest) protesters outside of Paris and expressed support for their cause.

The French government of President Emmanuel Macron has been crippled by protests from the growing "gilet jaune" movement since November.

  Cartoon from French state broadcaster ‘Radio France International’ | Coastweek

Cartoon from French state broadcaster ‘Radio France International’ shows the famous ‘Giaconda’ (Mona Lisa) painting from the Louvre Museum with her face painted white with shock and wearing a "gilet jaune" (yellow vest).

The protestors have violently opposed Macron’s policy initiatives, often forcing difficult compromises.

Di Maio’s remarks in France were in line with a declaration from Matteo Salvini, the other deputy prime minister and leader of the euro-skeptic League, who said last month, "I hope the French will soon be able to free themselves from a terrible president."

"The wind of change has crossed the Alps," the Five-Star Movement’s Di Maio said via social media, referring to the anti-establishment sentiment that put the Conte government in power and the mountain range that dominates the border between Italy and France.

Di Maio’s statements of support for the movement ended France’s months-long attempt to keep the problems at an arm’s length.

Within hours of Di Maio’s remarks, France recalled ambassador Christian Masset from Rome.

It was the first time France withdrew its ambassador in Italy since 1940, just after the country declared war on France in the early days of World War II.

That comparison was not lost on France’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which issued a statement this week saying relations between the two countries were now worse off than at any point since they were at war with each other more than 75 years ago.

"Italian relations with France have been worsening since 2011, when they had different positions on the future of Libya during the civil war there," Marchetti told Xinhua.

"But since the Conte government came into power the situation has worsened.

"Both sides are scoring political points opposing the other."

According to Oliviero Fiorini, a political analyst with ABS Securities, the crumbling relationship between Italy and France could have wide-ranging implications.

"There is turmoil all over the European Union with Brexit, slow economic growth, rising populism, terrorism," Fiorini said in an interview.

"If Italy and France continue their shoving match, it could shake the foundations of the European Union.

"In the current context I would worry about whether the European Union could even survive in its current form."


Key questions remain unresolved for business when Brexit approaching

LONDON United Kingdom (Xinhua) -- With less than 50 days to Brexit, critical questions remain unanswered for business, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said on Tuesday night.

The BCC highlighted 20 key issues that are still unclear for business in a "no deal" scenario on March 29, including what trade agreements will be in place, how firms can move skilled staff, and which regulations they will need to follow.

According to BCC, the business group which represents 75,000 firms and employing nearly 6 million people, while firms understand that negotiations are still ongoing, they are hugely concerned that the UK is not prepared for all eventualities.

Adam Marshall, Director General of the BCC, said: "in less than 50 days, UK firms could face the biggest change to their terms of trade in over a generation, without the information and clarity they need to navigate their forward course."

The BCC also warned that the absence of clarity and precision has already stifled investment and growth.

"The lack of clear, precise answers is now causing real damage to many businesses, and to the wider economy," Marshall added.

Earlier this week, official figures showed that Britain’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018 increased by 1.4 percent, hitting its weakest level since 2009.

Many economists believed that the uncertainty over Brexit has taken its toll on the economy.

British FM asks EU leaders for Brexit compromise to protect Irish peace

LONDON United Kingdom (Xinhua) -- British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Tuesday asked Europe Union (EU) leaders to compromise on Brexit in order to secure "friendly relations" between Britain and its neighboring Republic of Ireland and to protect peace in Northern Ireland.

The foreign secretary made the remarks before traveling to France and Poland for talks with ministers, raising the threat of a no-deal Brexit or "Brexit paralysis" if the EU and Britain were unable to strike a deal.

The EU was steadfastly refusing to budge on the Northern Ireland "backstop," and the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up the current British government, was adamant that it must be axed or changed, or else they will not back the Withdrawal Agreement.

"No one who grew up with bombs every week in Northern Ireland but also in Harrods, Hyde Park and throughout the UK could ever countenance taking a risk with peace, and nor will we," Hunt said.

"But the best way to secure that peace is to do a Brexit deal that secures friendly relations between the UK and its neighbors," Hunt said.

"And that means sensible compromise on all sides."

Hunt’s remarks echoed statements in recent weeks by several high-profile political figures, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who have warned of a potential return to violence in Northern Ireland if a hard border is installed in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Also on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May pleaded with members of parliament to give her more time to secure a revised Brexit deal amid warnings from Brussels that the EU is still waiting for her to come up with a viable plan.

She promised to update members of parliament again on Feb. 26 and, if she had not got a new deal by then, to give them a say on the next steps in non-binding votes.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, on Monday insisted there was no question of Brussels giving in to Downing Street’s demands on the Irish "backstop."

"We’re waiting for clarity and movement from the United Kingdom," Barnier told reporters after talks in Luxembourg with the country’s Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel.

Theresa May said in Parliament that she was discussing a number of options with the EU to secure legally-binding changes to the "backstop": replacing it with "alternative arrangements;" putting a time limit on how long it can stay in place; or a unilateral exit clause so the UK can leave at a time of its choosing.

The backstop" arrangement is the "insurance" policy in May’s deal to avoid a return to border checks on the island of Ireland.

Britain secures continued Free Trade with Switzerland after Brexit

LONDON United Kingdom (Xinhua) -- Britain clutched a trade agreement with Switzerland on Monday, allowing businesses to continue trading freely after Britain leaves the European Union (EU).

The trade continuity agreement, replicating existing EU-Switzerland arrangements as far as possible, will come into effect in January 2021 as soon as the transition period ends as stipulated in the Brexit withdraw agreement, or on March 29 this year if the Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

As an EU member, Britain benefits from around 40 existing EU trade agreements that cover more than 70 countries.

In the run-up to Brexit, Britain has raced against the clock to replicate such deals to prepare for its departure from the EU.

Its continuity agreement with Switzerland is considered to be the biggest one so far as Switzerland is Britain’s third largest non-EU market.

The agreement simplifies trade and allows businesses to continue trading freely, without any additional tariffs.

It continues the elimination of duties on the vast majority of goods traded between Britain and Switzerland, according to a statement from the British Department of International Trade.

The British vehicles sector could avoid up to 8 million pounds a year in tariff charges on their exports, while aluminium exporters could avoid up to 4 million pounds and precious stones and metals exporters could also avoid up to 4 million pounds, the statement said.

Consumers in Britain will continue to benefit from more choice and lower prices on goods imported from Switzerland, such as clocks, watches and pharmaceutical products, it said.

Switzerland is one of the most valuable trading partners that Britain is seeking continuity for, accounting for more than 32 billion pounds’ worth of trade a year, Britain’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said, describing the deal "of huge economic importance to UK businesses." (1 pound = 1.29 U.S. dollars).

No-deal Brexit would affect more than 100,000 German jobs: study

BERLIN Germany (Xinhua) -- A no-deal Brexit would hit German labour market particularly hard and more than 100,000 jobs in Germany could be affected, a study showed on Monday.

A hard Brexit would have consequences for international trade and labour markets in many countries, including outside Europe. More than 600,000 jobs may be affected worldwide, according to the study by the Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH).

"A hard Brexit would disrupt global value chains," stated study author Oliver Holtemoeller, vice president and head of the macroeconomics department at IWH.

"This is why Britain’s disorderly withdrawal from the EU has the potential to cause a significant loss of wealth.

"From an economic perspective it is crucial that a deal can still be reached," Holtemoeller added.

In addition, a hard Brexit would particularly affect German car industry.

A total of 15,000 employees in the German automotive industry could be affected by the decline in sales.


Italy (outspoken politicians) sends mixed signals in historic spat with (upset) France

As France withdraws ambassador from Rome, European jealousies might break EU

United Kingdom inflation falls to two-year low, offering households help before Brexit



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