Italy and France agree on boundaries between the Ligurian and the Tyrrhenian Sea

Genoa - An agreement! Italy and France have exchanged a handful of waves by signing the Treaty on new maritime borders, on 21 March, in Caen.

di Paolo Crecchi

Genoa - An agreement! Italy and France have exchanged a handful of waves by signing the Treaty on new maritime borders, on 21 March, in Caen. A corner of the Ligurian Sea in exchange for a slice of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the den of prawns also known as the cemetery in exchange for the dry areas between Capraia, Elba and Corsica. The fishermen of Sanremo also lose the fishing routes for swordfish, as the Tuscan waters broaden their horizons. Rivalry between the two navies? Apparently not. This agreement is the result of a more complicated mediation. Yesterday, while the fishing vessel Mina was finally on her way home, it was announced that in the negotiations that lasted six years, without the public being informed, it wasn’t just the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that participated: the Italian side was represented by officials from the Ministries of Defence, Environment, Economic Development, Agriculture and even Cultural Heritage. Was it the fault of the left-wing party in power that it was all kept secret? No: the chairmen of the board who have been involved in the agreement, as negotiations on the Ligurian Sea proceeded, were Romano Prodi, Silvio Berlusconi and Mario Monti. The entire constitutional arch and the executive government.

Enrico Letta’s administration never dealt with this case. It was the Secretary of Agriculture responsible for fisheries, Giuseppe Castiglione who broke the secrecy pact and obtained a written account of what happened. Italy and France did not have an official border at sea, only a written notice of 1892 which regulated fishing. Between the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the new millennium there was an increased interest in the sea (tourism, environment, fish resources) and Italy was the first, in 2011, to create an exclusive fishing zone whose boundaries were established temporarily “pending the delimitation agreements with France.” A similar exclusive economic zone was established by their neighbours across the Alps the following year. At that point it was inevitable that pen would be put to paper, taking as its basis the general criteria established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: very briefly, the line between the territorial waters and the equidistance from the continental shores. During the negotiation Italy agreed to define as “areas of mutual exchange” the parts of the sea to the northwest and to the southeast of Corsica but the reason for this is still unknown. In practice, that meant trading a piece of the Ligurian Sea with one of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

To the benefit of the Tuscan navy? To avoid attacking the environmentalists and tourist operators in France and Monaco, who have always been against fishing along the French Riviera? Trawling disturbs the seabed, it moves earth and it pollutes. Fishing boats are only romantically ecological once moored in port. “We do not know if there are vested interests behind this exchange,” officials from the Foreign Ministry state. “We will do everything possible to remedy the grievances of the people in Liguria,” stated Undersecretary for Agricultural Policies, “The treaty has not yet been ratified, there’s room for modifications.” As for the rest, there are more or less embarrassed silences. Renata Briano, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Fisheries of the EU: “It’s incredible, that the interested parties in the area had not been informed. And this crisis that lasted six years has not had any media coverage.” The Ligurian fishing fleet was completely unaware. Barbara Esposto, of Legacoop: “There are pressures from other Italian navies.” So maybe it was a gift to France, in fact, in the form of a border agreement.