The presidents of France and Germany attended the funeral of former Italian head of state Giorgio Napolitano today, putting their differences with Italy to one side amid tensions between both countries and Rome over migration.
Emmanuel Macron and Frank-Walter Steinmeier joined Italian and other European dignitaries in paying their respects to the former president, who died Friday aged 98.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also attended the funeral, and held talks with Macron against a backdrop of tensions between the pair.
Meloni’s right-wing government has clashed with both Paris and Berlin in recent months over migration, after a surge in arrivals on Italy’s shores.
In particular, a sharp rise in migrants landing on the Italian island of Lampedusa this month reignited a debate across the EU over who takes responsibility for asylum seekers arriving in Europe from North Africa and the Middle East.
French President Emmanuel Macron walks with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on the day of the state funeral of the former Italian President and senator, Giorgio Napolitano in Rome, Italy, September 26
Emmanuel Macron and Frank-Walter Steinmeier (pictured together) joined Italian and other European dignitaries in paying their respects to the former president, who died Friday aged 98
But after heated rhetoric in both France and Italy over who should take in the migrants, Macron and Meloni have promised to act together.
Meanwhile, political parties in the France’s hung parliament are wrangling over a draft law governing new arrivals.
‘We cannot leave the Italians alone,’ Macron said in a television interview on Sunday – an offer of help that Meloni immediately said she ‘welcomed with great interest’.
Rome’s relations with Berlin are frostier.
Meloni wrote to Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the weekend to complain about Berlin’s funding of charity projects to help migrants either at sea or onshore in Italy.
‘I have learned with astonishment that your administration – without coordinating with the Italian government – has allegedly decided to support with substantial funds non-governmental organisations engaged in the reception of irregular migrants on Italian territory and in rescues in the Mediterranean Sea,’ Meloni wrote.
The right-wing Meloni is pursuing a hard line against illegal immigration but Italy has seen a surge in migrant arrivals this year with some 133,000 coming ashore so far against around 69,800 in the same period in 2022.
Rome blames the NGO boats that conduct rescue missions in the central Mediterranean – the world’s deadliest sea crossing for migrants – for encouraging arrivals from North Africa.
As part of her efforts, Meloni’s government has sought to limit the activities of charity rescue ships operating in the central Mediterranean, the world’s deadliest sea crossing for migrants, drawing the ire of others within the EU.
Napolitano was a former communist who became the first Italian president to serve a second term.
Pictured: The secular State Funeral for the President Emeritus Giorgio Napolitano, in the Chamber of Montecitorio in Rome, Italy, 26 September 2023
Napolitano was a former communist who became the first Italian president to serve a second term. Renowned for his moderation and statesmanship, he was regarded as a guarantor of stability during a time of particular turbulence in Italian politics
Renowned for his moderation and statesmanship, he was regarded as a guarantor of stability during a time of particular turbulence in Italian politics.
In office from 2006 to 2015, he was president during the premierships of Romano Prodi, Silvio Berlusconi, Mario Monti, Enrico Letta and Matteo Renzi.
Representatives from Albania, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Britain and the European Union were also announced among the guest list for the funeral.
Unusually for Italy, Napolitano had asked to have a non-religious ceremony, which was held in the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies.