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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

France today recalled its ambassador to Italy after the populist government in Rome publicly aligned itself with the protesters attempting to topple President Emmanuel Macron.

Catch up quick: Luigi Di Maio, Italy's deputy prime minister and leader of the Five Star movement, met Tuesday with leaders of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests), praising them and declaring "the wind of change has crossed the Alps." The French response was swift and furious. It culminated in today's announcement and a statement lamenting "a serious situation which is raising questions about the Italian government’s intentions towards France.”

Between the lines:

  • Constanze Stelzenmüller of Brookings says the Italians have a "genuinely divergent view" about the future of Europe, "but also a disruptive intent. They're also very close to the Russians and are disruptive on things like sanctions as well. In my view, they're out to make trouble."
  • Erik Brattberg of Carnegie points to "a bigger rift taking place across Europe — not just Italy but also Hungary, Poland — with populists wanting not necessarily to destroy the European Union, but to change it" in fundamental ways.

The big picture: On the other side of those battle lines stand the multilateralist powers, France and Germany. Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel heralded a "new chapter" in relations and pledged to tie themselves and Europe ever closer together last month as they signed a (mostly symbolic) treaty.

  • Yes, but: France today backed a review that could threaten the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would deliver Russian gas to Germany. Macron also canceled a trip to the Munich Security Conference to focus on domestic concerns.
  • There are big divides on more fundamental issues, like the pace of European integration. Thus, Macron and Merkel tend to make bold statements on the areas they do agree — the "European army," for example — and in so doing "create false expectations and unnecessary suspicions" elsewhere in Europe, Brattberg says.

Why it matters: Europe faces massive challenges in the economy, in security and in identity. Shocks to the system like Brexit make them more urgent still. Those challenges aren't just dividing nationalists and multilateralists — cracks are showing within the opposing camps.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats' billionaires tax explained

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There is now legislative language behind the push to tax American billionaires on unrealized capital gains, as Sen. Ron Wyden last night released his 107-page plan.

Why it matters: This would be a sea change in U.S. tax policy, which has only applied to realized gains (otherwise known as income).

4 hours ago - World

Scoop: Blinken protests Israel settlements approval in "tense" phone call

Benny Gantz (L) and Tony Blinken. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken protested the decision to approve 3,000 new housing units in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank during a tense phone call on Tuesday with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, three Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is the first time new construction in the settlements has been approved since President Biden assumed office, and the Biden administration had been privately pressing the Israeli government not to proceed.

The startup that wants to disrupt big internet providers

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A new startup backed by funding from AOL founder Steve Case and Laurene Powell Jobs wants to break up broadband monopolies across the country.

Why it matters: Internet access has been crucial during the pandemic, but it's not ubiquitous, and it can be both slow and unaffordable in swaths of the country.