Thursday, April 16, 2015

ADSS 1.11 Filippo Bernradini, Switzerland to Cardinal Maglione - Franco-Italian relations

1.11 Filippo Bernardini, Switzerland to Luigi Maglione, Secretary of State

Reference: Report 5862 (AES 2145/39)

Location and date: Berne, 16.04.1939

Summary statement: Conversation between the Nuncio and French Ambassador on the possibility of bringing France and Italy together.

Language: Italian


I think it my duty to report to your Eminence two short conversations that I had with the Honourable Mr Motta (1) and Mr Hervé Alphand, the French Ambassador. (2)

Mr Motta spoke to me about the international situation.  According to Mr Motta, Swiss public opinion was shocked by the occupation of Albania; more by the circumstances in which it was carried out than by the political import of the event.  The fact that it was carried out on Good Friday has raised a lot of indignation amongst Catholics and Protestants. (3) He confirmed to me, however, that, notwithstanding all this, he was still moderately optimistic – as he stated in the Federal Council – regarding the near future, especially if relations between France and Italy improved.  On his own initiative, during a conversation with the French Ambassador he suggested that it was imperative immediately to negotiate between the two nations, and he expressed the opinion that a mediation of the Holy See, where both France and Italy can count on sincere friends in the person of the Holy Father and of his Secretary of State, could be most useful.  Mr Motta assured me that the two French Ambassadors in Rome, including the Ambassador accredited to the Holy See who is reputed not to be too compliant, had already pointed out the suitability of immediate negotiations to the Quai d’Orsay. (4)

During my courtesy call to Mr Alpahand to thank him for the sympathy expressed by him at the occasion of my recent bereavement, we spoke about the same subject. (5) I confirmed to the Ambassador that nothing would please the Holy Father more than a reconciliation between the two Catholic countries, an event which would fit so well into the plan for peace pout forward so many times by the Pope.  The Ambassador replied that his Government knew that it could rely on the valuable assistance of the Holy See, but saw a serious obstacle to opening negotiations in the fact that French public opinion was decidedly hostile to Italy and this lack of trust had been caused by the latest events.  He added that, as Italy had denounced the 1935 Agreements, it was up to Italy and not France to put forward new proposals. (6)

I mentioned that, owing to the urgency of finding a solution for the controversial points and the immediate advantage that would benefit both nations, I though that a question of precedence should be a secondary one. I concluded by saying that if a journey from Paris to Rome or from Rome to Paris seemed too long, the parties could meet half-way.  The Ambassador thanked me, and spoke to me about Poland, whose policy is directed by a man who – in his opinion – could not be more anti-French.(7)  And about Spain, he recalled very kindly that I had been right when, months ago, he mentioned that France intended to send a general as Ambassador to Franco. (8) I had remarked that the time for generals in Spain was perhaps past and that an able diplomat would have been better for the task.  As it is so very difficult in present days to foresee the future correctly, I hope your Eminence will forgive me this act of vanity.

(1) Giuseppe Motta (1871-1940), Federal Council (Switzerland) (1911-40) and Head of Political Department (1920-40). Motta was also President of the League of Nations 1924-25.
(2) Charles Hervé Alphand (1879-1942), French Ambassador to Switzerland 1936-40. 
(3) Italy invaded Albania on 07.04.1939 – Good Friday. The country was under Italian control by 12.04.1939.
(4) André François-Poncet (1887-1978) French Ambassador to Italy (1938-40); Francois Charles-Roux (1879-1961) French Ambassador to the Holy See (1932-40).
(5) Bernardini’s uncle Pio Bernardini (1861-1939) had recently died.
(6) Franco-Italian Agreement of 07.01.1935 designed to encircle and limit the potential threat of Germany to the balance of power in Europe. France ceded parts of her African colonies to Italy, redefined the status of Italians in Tunisia, and agreed to allow Italy freedom of action in Ethiopia.
(7) Alpahand’s comment is curious since France and Poland were about to announce a new alliance.  The Kasprzycki-Gamelin Convention was signed on 19.05.1939.  It pledged mutual military support in the event of German aggression.  France ratified the treaty on 04.09.1939, the day after the French Government declared war on Germany.  Nonetheless, French attitudes towards the convention were less than enthusiastic.  Foreign Minister, Georges Bonnet, was keen to keep France out of a war with Germany.
(8) General Henri Philippe Pétain (1856-1951) was appointed French Ambassador to Spain in March 1939.  He remained in Madrid until recalled in May 1940.

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