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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.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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

Trump can't quit mainstream media

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are interviewed by Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" in September. Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty Images

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa issued a rebuttal on Friday to a statement by former President Donald Trump that misrepresented their reporting — and once again showed the 45th president's thin skin about mainstream media.

Driving the news: "Former President Trump said ... our book, 'Peril,' implied that he was planning to go to war with China," the statement begins. "[W]e report that Chairman of Joint Chiefs Mark Milley 'believed that Trump did not want a war' before or after the 2020 election."

NY declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron COVID variant

Governor Kathy Hochul makes an announcement about a new plan transforming Penn Station on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency amid rising COVID-19 cases and the newly-identified Omicron variant of the virus.

Driving the news: The declaration enables the state to acquire supplies to fight a potential surge in cases, increase hospital capacity and combat potential staff shortages, NBC's local affiliate reports.

2 hours ago - Health

First cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant discovered in U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Two cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant were detected in the United Kingdom overnight, the U.K. Health Security Agency announced Saturday.

Why it matters: The discovery comes as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.