France, Italy Look to Boost Nuclear Cooperation
The leaders of France and Italy will enhance their growing cooperation in the nuclear sector at a meeting on Friday where they are also due to discuss the mounting debt crisis hanging over the euro zone.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will build on an accord signed last year, under which France agreed to help Italy rebuild a nuclear sector that it abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
Berlusconi's centre-right government wants 25 percent of Italy's electricity to come from nuclear power and France, the world's second largest producer of atomic energy, has eyed the potentially lucrative market closely.
Seven agreements are due to be signed, including a memorandum of understanding on reactor projects between France's Areva, the world's biggest nuclear reactor maker, and Italian engineering group Ansaldo Nucleare.
But the two leaders will also be talking about the tense situation facing the euro zone as the Greek debt crisis has gathered in intensity and raised questions over the sustainability of Italy's own huge public debt.
Officials said Greece was not on the formal agenda but there is rising unease about the threat of contagion to other euro zone countries. However, French officials said Paris was not concerned about Italian public finances.
"We do not at all see Italy as among the 'weak links' in the euro zone," a senior French official said. "I think that the budget credibility of Italy is not disputed by anybody and, on the contrary, is impressive."
While economic issues are likely to dominate the meeting, the two leaders, both of whom will be accompanied by senior ministers, will also discuss international questions ranging from Iran and Afghanistan to the Middle East.
Plans for a joint Franco-Italian army brigade specialising in mountain warfare will also be unveiled, matching the existing Franco-German unit created by former President Francois Mitterrand and ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
The announcement, of mainly symbolic importance for the moment, will match accords for defence cooperation in satellites and naval operations.
There will also be an agreement opening the way to cooperation between French national rail operator SNCF and the Italy's Ferrovie dello Stato.
(Reuters Apr. 2010)