by Eric J. Lyman
ROME, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- The political shoving match between Italy and France may have dragged relations between the countries to new lows after France recalled its ambassador in Italy. This week it could reach new heights by killing a rescue deal for Italy's flagship airline.
Ties between Italy and France have been eroding ever since the installation of the government of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte more than eight months ago. The countries have clashed over migrant policy, European Union (EU) rules on government deficits, and even about how to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Renaissance maestro Leonardo Da Vinci.
France recalled Ambassador Christian Masset after Luigi Di Maio, Italy's deputy prime minister, publicly sided with protesters calling for the ouster of French President Emmanuel Macron.
Now, Air France is reconsidering its role in an elaborate rescue plan for Alitalia, Italy's beleaguered national airline.
Air France and its Dutch partner KLM were key parts of a much-heralded bailout plan for Alitalia centered around U.S. air carrier Delta and Ferrovie dello Stato, Italy's national rail operator.
Now the plan's future is in doubt, after Air France and KLM missed a deadline for presenting a formal commitment document to Ferrovie dello Stato, the only Italian entity involved in the scheme. Italian and French media both said that the ongoing political clash between Rome and Paris was the main culprit behind Air France's hesitation.
"If true, this makes Alitalia's situation much more difficult to resolve," University of Birmingham political scientist and commentator on Italy-related topics Daniele Albertazzi said via social media.
Di Maio, who sparked the most serious part of the political row with his support of the French anti-government "gilet jaune" (yellow vest) protesters, brushed aside concerns about the troubled Alitalia plan.
"Air France's enthusiasm has not cooled," Di Maio said to reporters while on a visit to Abruzzo last week.
At least initial signals indicate Di Maio could be wrong. While there is no official word on the deal from Air France, what had been an intense schedule of negotiations has stopped since the start of last week.
Meanwhile, media reports from Monday indicate that Delta, which would have been the lead partner in the deal involving Air France, is now in talks with discount air carrier Easy Jet, which could take the place of Air France and KLM in an agreement that would still include the participation of Ferrovie dello Stato.
Easy Jet and German flagship air carrier Lufthansa have each expressed interest in acquiring control of Alitalia on their own. But those deals had been considered less interesting because that would require deeper layoffs and other cutbacks than the deal including Air France.
For his part, Lucio Cillis, author of the book "Tutto quello che avresti voluto sapere su Alitalia" (Everything you wanted to know about Alitalia), said he believes the Air France deal may not be dead.
"If Delta really wants the deal, remember that Delta owns 9 percent of Air France," Cillis told Xinhua. "Even for Air France, business is business. If a deal for Alitalia made business sense before, it will still make business sense now, even if the political tensions have changed."