The Quirinal Treaty: reaching a stronger EU through differentiated integration?

by Benedetta Fovi De Ruggiero

 On 26 November 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi signed the Quirinal Treaty for strong and enhanced bilateral cooperation. After years of diplomatic and political tensions between France and Italy, the pact now marks the turning point for European integration by rebooting the Franco-Italian cooperation, the called Dracon, thus impacting the future of a more cohesive EU.

According to both governments, this new agreement signifies a historic and symbolic moment in the relations between the two countries. Furthermore, the 12 articles manifest the common vocation for European projects and values. As a result of intense negotiations, the Treaty’s core objectives aim at strengthening the convergence between the two countries in some strategic areas, namely European policies, foreign affairs, Defence and Security, Culture and Education, Economic and Industrial development, Space and Digital Innovation, and Migration policy. Hence, the crucial meeting at the Quirinal Palace aspires to accelerate the integration process by reinforcing European sovereignty through cooperation between member states.
As stated by Prime Minister Draghi:

“The deepest significance of this Treaty lies in the fact that our sovereignty, meaning our capacity to guide the future how we want to, can only be strengthened through a shared management of our common challenges”.

From diplomatic tensions to cross-border cooperation

Initially proposed in 2017, the pact did not gain sufficient attention due to tense relations between the two countries. Indeed, the migration crisis and the consequent urgency in addressing refugee flows and the delicate Libyan topic increased hostilities among EU member states, not allowing them to elaborate on common positions or solutions. Despite sharing similar pro-European impetus, the French president and Italian Prime Minister of that time (Emmanuel Macron and Paolo Gentiloni) focused on the dividing economic and geopolitical elements, thus forgetting their commitment to pursuing an integrated European Union based on the Art.2 of the Treaty on European Union.

The relations between the Hexagone region and the Italian peninsula deteriorated after the failed Celle Saint-Cloud Summit, where most of the French proposals, mainly perceived as unilateral and strategically risky, could not meet Rome’s security and energy needs. Despite the initial difficulties, due to the 2018 Italian electoral campaign, resulting in the government led by the 5-star Movement and the far-right League party, several summits followed. Neither of the two governments ever denied the traditional commitment to modelling the EU or the imminent need to encourage the creation of a bilateral treaty, sitting alongside the 1963 Elysée Treaty, which strengthened and institutionalized ties between Paris and Berlin. Being pillars of Europeanism, Italy and France reconfirmed their liaison and appointed a French-Italian experts’ group to examine a first draft of the document. However, when it comes to bilateral agreements in equal European governance, contribution and participation, the main challenge is to compromise on the other’s vision and necessity. The latter can be portrayed in a realist zero-sum game which converts the other partner from an eventual coadjutor to an opponent. Miscomprehension, prejudices and mutual distrust are the main vectors of this attitude. Indeed, in 2019 the diplomatic crisis between the two neighbours reached its peak, with Paris temporarily recalling its ambassador from Italy.

Right after the change of the Italian government and the outbreak of the sanitary crisis, France and Italy’s governments re-aligned again, prioritizing principles of European responsibility and solidarity in facing global challenges. The signing of the Quirinal Treaty results from the dual acceptance of differences among member states and the persistence of a joint European cultural system which urges to be re-formed and empowered.

Differentiation is integration

The recent events have challenged member states’ capacity to face new global issues, whether sanitarian, economic, or geopolitical. In this vital moment, where states are asked to shift towards a more integrated and inclusive Europe, we place the Quirinal Treaty and its enhanced cooperation initiative. Indeed, when talking about European Union, the concept of differentiated integration follows. This phenomenon, rooted in the creation of the EU itself, concerns the several solutions that member states have to deepen integration in some policy areas without the participation of all member states. The possibility to proceed with different speeds is beneficial to the member states and the integration process. The differentiation has various layers as it can cover time, manners and space differentiation, depending on the goals of member states, the speed to reach them and differentiated participatory levels in specific EU policies. The multi-speed Europe, the Europe à la carte, or the permanent structured cooperation are all theoretical and empirical evidence that differentiation has been part of the deepening and widening of the European integration process.

A brief introduction to the differentiated integration helps understand how eventual bilateral cooperation, such as the Quirinal Treaty, does not constitute a danger to a united or democratic EU. It does not automatically create a first-class European membership or a two-tier system. On the contrary, in an increasingly diversified and varied EU, it can increase its global relevance and powers by avoiding a decision-making impasse.
The interests of Italy and France are convergent and are looking towards the advance of the European Union. There is, however, the attempt of both countries to play a significant role in the EU.  The general instability following the Covid-19 pandemic alert, the retirement of Angela Merkel as former German chancellor, Poland’s and Hungary’s threats to the rule of law, and ultimately the Russian invasion of Ukraine accelerated the sensible act of consultation between Italy and France. Indeed, by fostering mutual exchanges and understandings, the Franco-Italian cooperation has the political and diplomatic means to engage in rapid and joint action at the European level.

Therefore, if well managed following with the EU’s main objectives, this renewed and closer cooperation is likely to show in a real evolutionary way with decision-making effectiveness, fair cooperation, and improved policy quality. In addition, a broader and heterogeneous EU is likely to be differentiated, as the one-size-fits-all approach arguably reflects the interests and wishes of its citizens. Hence, a more flexible Union is needed to permit the countries’ diverse levels of ambition. In this particular case, the differentiated integration is regarding the modelling of more trust between two member states when facing European challenges together. However, the risk of landing in a hostile land is a reality that has to be considered. Some countries, notably smaller or medium ones, willing to be more directly involved, are now addressing the three dilemmas of the EU. The fear among member states concerns the eventuality that a deeper Franco-Italian connection could lead to a narrowly concentric Europe. The latter consists of having an EU with many circles of cooperation and agreement, starting with an inner heart (such as France and Italy taking the leadership) more prominent and united, and a series of concentric circles that include most member states but in a less relevant and cohesive form. Nonetheless, this flexibility, that allows states to sign new treaties within the treaty framework, thus reinforcing their cooperation, is valuable for reaching deeper integration. Indeed, the coherence of shared values and the Acquis Communautaire are always preserved by enhanced cooperation among European Member states.

Redefining the EU’s sovereignty

The long-overdue bilateral cooperation has now the potential to be the real game-changer in defining the EU’s global role and sovereignty. During the Quirinal Treaty’s final signature, the French President Emmanuel Macron argued the anomalous lack of institutionalized Franco-Italian agreement. Indeed, he considered the shared values, historical background, and artists as a surplus in defining the two countries as the berceau of beauty, art and European culture. The Treaty, coming nearly 60 years after the one signed by Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, has a similar role in fostering a new, modern and adequate impetus to European integration. While the 1963 Elysée Treaty was mainly embedded with security and defence ambitions, the Quirinal Treaty focuses on environmental and migration policy. Both treaties are the product of their time and circumstances. Today, the convergence of the two countries’ positions aspire to strengthen the EU as a global political and economic actor. The aim is to promote a more stable and ambitious framework by establishing a consultation mechanism whereby the two countries’ representatives regularly meet to search for a common position in the EU (annual intergovernmental summit). The Dracon partnership era marks a significant rebalancing of Europe’s power during great political change through the conception of multiple levels of interactions.

Hence, today, Paris and Rome, are aligned, proceeding at the same speed in strategic areas, particularly in some main policy dimensions. One example is the need to build up a general macroeconomic consensus while reviewing the Eurozone governance system  considering the Next Generation EU (NGEU) arrangements. Another pertinent point concerns the establishing of a stable EU migration governance system adequate to manage imminent refugee flows reaching the European borders. Finding a common point on this delicate topic will likely bring the two countries closer to a broader Mediterranean policy. In addition, French President Macron wants to achieve a higher strategic European autonomy to limit the Unions’ vulnerability to external and abrupt shocks in terms of political reliance on other countries, energy security, military performance and capacity, and space research. Finally, the bilateral pact configures itself as a domestically and internationally singular political momentum due to the ambitious plans. The potential of integrating the traditional Franco-German engine increases opportunities to strengthen the EU sovereignty by responding jointly to major issues in international politics, such as the climate emergency.


The Quirinal Treaty signature between France and Italy represents both a step forward in the strategic alignment of the two countries and an incentive to pursue and supplement the EU integration process. The pact aims to reinforce the two neighbours’ position within the EU, exploring options and opportunities. Despite being a bilateral agreement, it does not overshadow the EU. Indeed, it reinforces and highlights the high priority of shaping a common European community and identity rather than excluding other countries.

Whereas the Treaty will produce spill-over effects on other countries’ ambition, it is essential to re-shape a strengthened partnership among member states by increasing the EU’s ability to channel concerns and proposals.

Considering the actual political time, France and Italy are modelling a new phase for the global role of the EU. Notwithstanding some countries might cooperate more and faster, the main feature remains a united, democratic and sovereign Union that needs to confirm or redefine its goals, values and final destination to reach.