After a rather cold reception from the French authorities of the nomination of Giorgia Meloni as the new president of the Italian council, President Emmanuel Macron finally met the leader in the Italian capital. He was thus the first European head of state to meet her officially.
This first contact was very discreet. Emmanuel Macron was in fact travelling to Rome for a completely different reason. On Sunday, October 23rd, he was scheduled to attend the International Congress of the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio to discuss peace and inter-religious dialogue; on Monday, October 24th, he was scheduled for an audience with Pope Francis.
In the French diplomatic tradition, because of the multiple twists and turns of the ‘Roman question’ in the 19th century, it is customary not to mix official trips to the Vatican with state visits to the Italian government. Emmanuel Macron therefore initially remained very cautious about the possibility of an interview with Giorgia Meloni during his visit to the Holy City. But the exceptional coincidence of the calendar—the official nomination of Meloni as prime minister on the very weekend of his visit—got the better of diplomatic precautions, and Macron and Meloni finally managed to organise a relatively informal meeting. The initiative seems to have come from Giorgia Meloni, and the exact location was not publicised. Acceptance of the invitation by the French presidency services was done at the very last minute. “It took time to work out the technical details to courteously accept Ms. Meloni’s invitation to this informal meeting,” a member of Macron’s team told Le Parisien.
Very few details were released by the president’s entourage on the exact content of the meeting, which the French president welcomed, explaining that he wanted to work with Giorgia Meloni “with dialogue and ambition.”
Giorgia Meloni’s office reported a “cordial and fruitful” meeting of more than an hour on the burning issues of the moment, at the top of which were, of course, Ukraine and the rise in energy prices. The Elysée preferred to use the terms “frank and open” to describe their discussion. The difference is subtle but significant.
The French government, unlike some of its European counterparts, did not officially congratulate Meloni on her appointment. The first official communiqué from the French presidency on Meloni’s accession to power came only after the interview, and emphasised French “vigilance,” particularly on the issue of human rights, the rule of law, and values. In France, the left-wing NUPES coalition strongly criticised the meeting between the two leaders. The first secretary of the Socialist Party, Olivier Faure, condemned the meeting “without nuance or reserve,” scorning what he observed to be “the banalisation [normalisation] without borders of the far Right.” The interim president of the Rassemblement National Jordan Bardella, on the other hand, welcomed Emmanuel Macron’s approach, which he interpreted as a gesture of respect towards Italian voters.
At a time when the Franco-German couple is showing signs of weakness, one of Emmanuel Macron’s motivations for reaching out to Meloni could also be, out of political realism, not to close the door on an effective collaboration with Italy.