By a Diplomatic C'orrespontlent.
What is Laval doing? Is it merely a coincidence that so soon after his assumption of power as head of the Vichy Government an old issue between Germany and Italy has arisen in an embittered form? The national press, which a few weeks ago had nothing but vituperation to offer lased, is being made to think: and that itself is an achievement.
To understand what lies behind the cOrnnrunications now passing between Vichy and Rome one must recall the circumstances which brought Laval into power.
At the end of January, Greeting visited Italy. Behind the pomp he heard from Mussolini the tale of Italy's grievances. lie had to hear them because Germany's difficulties, east and west, gave Mussolini courage. lie had to agree that to compensate Italy for the loss of her African Empire and for the incidental loss of manpower, ships and prestige, Mussolini should now help himself to the French spoils he had coveted since June, 1940.
Some 600,000 Italian troops during the next few weeks were concentrated in northern Italy. The Italian press started a new campaign for " Corsica, Nice, Tunis," The Paris collaborationists—de Britton, Abets. and Stillynagel alike—fearing for the effect on French opinion, succeeded at last in persuading Main that Laval was the man to save the French, as well as the Getman, bacon.
ART OF FINESSE Now French politicians are past masters in the art of finesse.
Since 1940 Marshal retain has skilfully played Italian against German claims. Mussolini has been baulked by Vichy's suggestions that the opposition to Italy's claims on France came from Hitler, not from Main.' Hitler has been baulked by Vichy's suggestions that French disaffection over the surrender of the French fleet and Mediterranean bases to Germany would produce something like a Franco-Italian entente.
Pierre Laval is the world's greatest expert in such an exeteisc of finesse. We now learn on the one hand that King Victor Emmanuel has been inspecting the Italian troops on the Franco-Italian frontier, while the Italian press has kept up its claims on " Corsica, Nice, Tunis," and on the other hand that diplomatic notes have been passing between Vichy and Rome. What does it mean'?
It is clear that Mussolini diaguoses Hitler's difticultics and losses on the Eastern front, and his increasingly anxious preoccupation MI the German home front and in the occupied countries, as the opportunity for finally staking his claims on the Mediterranean area as an Italian preserve. Only in the last few days Italian Senators have openly proclaimed Italy's determination to usurp every French and British possession in the Mediterranean and in North Africa.
LAVAL'S ENVOYS Laval has sent two envoys to Rome. One of them is Lagardelle, the Minister of Economics, the other Laval's son-inlaw, the Comte de Chambrun, whose father was Ambassador in Rome. Both emissaries are personal friends of Mussolini, both are advocates of a Fascist system for France, both are in Laval's close confidence. Whet message have they taken to Rome?
Since they arrived, the Italian press has launched a violent attack on Laval, demanding his dismissal from his post as head of the Vichy Government, Neither Mussolini nor Hitler have had so wily, so unreliable a quisling " to deal with Quislings by their very nature can betray the new as readily as the old, or indeed any, order.
Laval is neither pro-German nor proItalian. He is pos-Laval, but-lie is also a French patriot. To-day he has given a still more spirited exhibitioe of the technique followed by Petain tor two years: he has advertised Italian claims distasteful in Germany. and has used Germany to defeat those Italian claims. How long will he be able to continue such a stratagem?