The Franco-Italian frontier
Tipologia: Paragrafo/Articolo – Data pubblicazione: 17/08/1946
The Franco-Italian frontier
«The Economist», 17 agosto 1946, p. 253
Sir, May I draw the attention of your readers to the peculiar character of the claims of France as regards her frontier with Italy? There are really two problems involved. It will be remembered that the crest of the Alps runs roughly south from the Swiss frontier until it approaches the Mediterranean, when it turns east into the Ligurian Alps, which eventually make connection with Appennines. The first problem is where the frontier shall be drawn in relation to the crest of the Alps where the crest is running north and south. The second problem is the line between the mountain and the sea.
As the sea is for Great Britain, so the Western Alps are for Italy the natural frontier. There are intermixtures of dialects on both sides of the Alps; but people fell themselves to be Italian on the side of waters descending into the River Po and French on the side of water descending into the Rhone. These feelings are the result of a long and difficult historical development. The small areas around the headwaters of the Po which have just been awarded to France provide a door to the Po valley and its chief towns of Milan and Turin. They have for this reasons been for centuries the object of disputes. As their respective fortunes rose or fell, so French or Italian assumed control alternatively. In general, however, France succeded even in her setbacks in keeping at least one place of great strategic importance until the Treaty of Utrecht, which fixed the crest of the Alps as the frontier between French and Italian lands. Its more detailed demarcation was ratified by two later treaties in 1760 and 1860 (after the cession of Savoy to France). These were said to consecrate perpetual peace and amity between the two countries.
The treaty of 1860 also fixed the line between the mountains and the sea. In that year, as part of the price paid for French help in the unification of Italy, not only the Duchy of Savoy further north, but also the County of Nice, were ceded to France. Nice had belonged to the House of Savoy ever since 1388, when the inhabitants freely gave their land, anxious to find a powerful protector after the ruin of the Provenzal House of Anjou. There is no natural frontier here, as with the crest of the Alps farther north, and there is some justification for dissatisfaction with the frontier hitherto existing. For example, the Hunting grounds round Mollieres (so called because Victor Emmanuel II used to hunt chamois there) are on the Var side of the watershed and properly go with Nice, but were left with Italy in 1860. The 1860 frontier also cuts into the middle of the Roya Valley, which is Italian at its head (Briga and Tenda) and at its mouth (Ventimiglia) but is French in the Middle, at Saorgio and Breglio. The French now claim the headwaters, round Briga and Tenda, where the Italian have built large hydro-electric works. This would make bad frontiers worse and hand over to France, to whom they would make little difference, resources that would be a severe loss to Italy, which is poor in coal. The obviously logical thing to do is to effect an exchange of the hunting grounds against the French enclave of Saorgio, so that the frontier could follow the crest of the Alps in its eastward turn until the line can turn due south for the sea along the natural western limit of the Roya Valley.
We are now a conquered country and expect penalties to be imposed. But the renunciation of the Upper Roya Valley offends tradition, national sentiment and just economic interests. If necessary, this area, kept a part of Italy, could be made a free zone. But to carry out the proposed unjust awards is truly the best method of reviving fascism and nationalism which, in my opinion, were dead in Italy as from July 25, 1943. It also harms wider European interests by throwing an apple of discord between the two sister Latin countries.