French President, Francois Hollande
New French President Francois Hollande travels to Rome on Thursday for talks with Mario Monti ahead of a key four-way summit, as Italy struggles to shake off rumours it may be heading for a bailout.
His visit comes amid fresh fears that Eurozone leaders may have failed to control the spiralling debt crisis, which has forced a struggling Spain to ask for aid and may see Greece bow out of the zone after an election this weekend.
The pressure on EU leaders to agree crisis measures has been magnified by the pounding Italy has taken this week as unease over the country's fate saw its 10 year government bond yield leap over the warning 6.0 percent barrier.
The meeting, which comes as Prime Minister Monti seeks to secure allies as the debt-crisis sharks loom, marks a move to widen Eurozone debt talks to beyond the usual Franco-German alliance and give Italy a more prominent role.
Thursday's talks are likely to focus on growth and debt management and will lay the ground for an important Rome summit between Italy, France, Germany and Spain on June 22, and a crucial EU leaders meeting in Brussels on June 28-29.
Diplomatic sources said Hollande's visit "is a sign that Paris wants to take advantage of the experience" of former European commissioner Monti, and is an attempt to "widen the circle beyond the tete-a-tete" with Berlin.
Monti and Hollande "want to work on common proposals" to tackle the crisis and favour the use of eurobonds and other new instruments as a way of reducing borrowing costs for the Eurozone's weaker economies.
Some economic watchers have touted Monti as a possible "bridge" between the different crisis-busting stances held by France and Germany.
Paris and Berlin are growing closer to agreement on growth stimulus measures for the debt-stricken Eurozone, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday, though he said some differences remained.
Like Monti, Socialist Hollande wants additional growth stimulus measures. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, emphasises the need for continued austerity budgets and economic reforms.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview in La Stampa newspaper on Wednesday that he hoped the new and "particularly close" collaboration between Italy and France would allow Monti to act as a mediator.
In a sign of the tetchy atmosphere between the Eurozone's biggest economies, Schaeuble took a swipe at Paris, complaining that France was not measuring up to crisis-busting structural reforms by failing to adhere to retirement ages.
In contrast, he praised Monti's structural reforms and said Italy would not succumb to the debt crisis if it stuck to them.
Monti insisted Wednesday that he was "relaxed over Italy's standing on the international stage and on the markets," telling the cabinet that the country had a lower public deficit and unemployment rate than many other EU countries.
He will likely be hoping to get France's public support to help allay market fears that Italy may soon follow Spain into the debt-crisis mire.
In the talks, which kick off at 14:00pm GMT, the leaders may also address foreign policy issues, from coordinated action on Syria to troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the fight against Islamic terrorism in the Sahel.
Hollande's first official trip to see Monti -- who took power in November as the debt crisis peaked -- is likely to contrast starkly with the rather stormy encounters between their predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi.
The days when Germany and France cosied up to each other to the exclusion of Italy -- captured in a indiscreet smirk shared by Merkel and Sarkozy when quizzed about Berlusconi at a conference last year -- appear to be over.