Welcome to Axios World, where two evenings a week we break down what you need to know about the big stories from around the globe.
This evening, we've got a special report on the forces pulling Europe together, and driving it apart.
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:
Between the lines:
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.
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.
"We meet again, Mr. Xi." Photo: Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Chinese President Xi Jinping has "China 2025." Now Peter Altmaier, Germany's economy minister, has introduced "National Industrial Strategy 2030."
As the FT's Ben Hall framed things on the World Weekly podcast: "[Altmaier] warned Germany and Europe risked being mere bystanders in the next industrial revolution unless states were able to protect technologically important companies or subsidize research and innovation. But is this protectionism in a 21st century high-tech disguise?”
What to watch: Axios Future Editor Steve LeVine points out that just as this debate is taking place, European antitrust regulators are taking aim at American tech giants, most notably Facebook. "Here you have the tension — between the antitrust impulse and the champions impulse," he says.
Macron parades down the Champs-Elysees on Bastille Day. Photo: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images
President Trump erupted in November over what he called a "very insulting" proposal from Macron for a "real European army."
Between the lines: When it comes to the EU army, or calls from Merkel and Macron for greater "strategic autonomy” in response to an unpredictable U.S., many in Europe are on Trump's side.
I sat down with Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs yesterday in Washington, and he told me that "very dangerous rhetoric" is "fueling this sense that something is changing fundamentally."
Why it matters: Rinkēvičs said he's confident Latvia doesn't face "immediate military risks or threats" from Russia, largely because there are now NATO troops on the ground, but the Baltics are not "somewhere in the Middle of Europe where the notion of invasion is just a fairytale."
Between the lines: Stelzenmüller says there is genuine momentum in Europe on collective defense, and areas in which it makes sense: crisis response, humanitarian aid, cybersecurity. She says the "European army" rhetoric "suggests a capability and intent" far beyond reality and is "part of their attempt to respond to their voters' concerns about Trump."
The EU flag flies in Westminster. Photo: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Today's flare-up between France and Italy was a preview of the European parliamentary elections, coming up in May.
Célia Belin, a former French diplomat now at Brookings, says, "For the first time, [those elections] will be fought on European issues, not on national issues," and Macron and the Italian populists "represent two pure versions of what's going to be offered."
Between the lines: Belin says that on issues like those, nationalists around the continent "have common values but not common policies." As recent twists in France-German relations show, though, the same could be said of the multilateralists.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people who fled Myanmar now live in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
"The women in these camps are expected to marry," Wudan Yan writes in California Sunday Magazine. "For those who marry Bangladeshi men, the unions offer the hope of security — food, income, citizenship for their children."
"Some find love. But more often, marriage turns out to be complicated, even dangerous."
Go deeper: Read the California Sunday Magazine feature.
The slow, steady erosion of democracy around the world continued for the 13th consecutive year, according to the latest annual "Freedom in the World" report by Freedom House, a watchdog group that advocates for democracy and human rights.
After writing Monday evening about how Vladimir Putin might lose power, I watched him accumulate it on stage last night.
One key line (paraphrasing here):
"Facts and figures don't matter in politics. People pass them around on trays at parties. But sooner or later, they're going to crave something to fear or something to love. That's where I come in."— Putin to Khodorkovsky before his arrest
Happy year of the pig! Celebrations in Chongqing, China. Photo: VCG via Getty
"I've been wondering what the special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan for how to carry it safely."— European Council President Donald Tusk
Thanks for stopping by — see you Monday evening!