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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

Ben Geman, author of Generate
17 mins ago - Politics & Policy

The top candidates Biden is considering for key energy and climate roles

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has urged President-elect Joe Biden to nominate Mary Nichols, chair of California's air pollution regulator, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: The reported push by Schumer could boost Nichol's chances of leading an agency that will play a pivotal role in Biden's vow to enact aggressive new climate policies — especially because the plan is likely to rest heavily on executive actions.

U.S. economy adds 245,000 jobs in November as recovery slows

Data: BLS; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. economy added 245,000 jobs in November, while the unemployment rate fell to 6.7% from 6.9%, the government said on Friday.

Why it matters: The labor market continues to recover even as coronavirus cases surge— though it's still millions of jobs short of the pre-pandemic level. The problem is that the rate of recovery is slowing significantly.

2 hours ago - Health

Fauci says he accepted Biden's offer to be chief medical adviser "on the spot"

The government's top infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci said Friday that he "absolutely" will accept the offer from President-elect Joe Biden to serve as his chief medical adviser, telling NBC's "Today" that he said yes "right on the spot."

Why it matters: President Trump had a contentious relationship with Fauci, who has been forced during the pandemic to correct many of the president's false claims about the coronavirus. Biden, meanwhile, has emphasized the importance of "listening to the scientists" throughout his campaign and transition.