Italy upset with France over Mont Blanc protection zone

Italy has formally voiced its displeasure to France over new protection measures for Mont Blanc, which it claims will also affect Italian territory.

The Italian embassy in Paris expressed its “strong disappointment” to French authorities on Wednesday, following instructions from Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

“Such unilateral measures which cannot and must not affect Italian territory,” Di Maio said in a statement.

“These cannot have any effect and are not recognised by Italy”.

The French Prefecture of Haute-Savoie announced measures to protect the Mont Blanc natural site – or Monte Bianco in Italian – on 1 October, intended to control traffic in the Alps and sustain plants and wildlife.

The natural protection zone of more than 3,000 hectares includes the areas of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, Houches, and Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, but also affects territories under Italian sovereignty, according to Rome.

Mont Blanc, western Europe’s highest mountain, marks the Alpine border between the two countries but has no physical boundary that separates France and Italy.

The 4,810-metre-high mountain attracts between 15,000 and 20,000 climbers every year, but local authorities and guides have grown tired of recent tourist activity in the Alps.

French President Emmanuel Macron had promised a tool for the preservation of Mont Blanc in February to help preserve mountaineering practices.

“Peace and respect have been re-established on this massif”, the mayor of Saint-Gervais, Jean-Marc Peillex, applauded on Twitter following the announcement of new measures.

“We are not putting the mountains under a bell, we are allowing activities and we are finding a balance with the preservation of the environment,” added the French Secretary of State for Biodiversity, Bérangère Abba.

But the Alpine peak has previously been the subject of quarrels between Italy and France, and the decision by Haute-Savoie was not without controversy.

In the official note sent to the French authorities, Luigi di Maio recalled that France had been willing to hold a joint commission to address the issue of border maintenance to “avoid any unilateral initiative by the local authorities”.

The foreign minister has requested that France intervene in the Haute-Savoie Prefecture to ensure that the “national sovereignty of Italy” is not affected by the local measures.

Di Maio’s letter followed a question in Italian parliament by the small far-right party, Brothers of Italy, who have accused France of “violating our borders”.

Euronews has contacted French authorities for a response to the Italian foreign ministry.

In 2019, Luigi di Maio raised the ire of French authorities after travelling to Paris to meet leaders of the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement.

Then-President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, weighed in on the diplomatic row by calling compatriot Di Maio “an inexperienced minister”.

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