Italy’s Meloni seeks new partnership with Africa, funds limited
By Crispian Balmer and Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) -Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called for a new partnership with Africa on Monday, unveiling a long-awaited plan aimed at boosting economic ties, creating an energy hub for Europe and curbing immigration.
Speaking at a one-day summit attended by more than two dozen African leaders and European Union officials, Meloni outlined a series of initiatives, pledging an initial 5.5 billion euros ($5.95 billion), including state guarantees.
“We believe it is possible to envision and write a new chapter in the history of our relationship, a cooperation among equals, far from any predatory imposition or charitable stance towards Africa,” Meloni said in an opening speech.
However, the proposal got a cool response from some of those present, with Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, saying he wished Africa had been consulted first.
“I want to insist here on the need to move from words to actions. You can well understand that we can no longer be satisfied with mere promises that are often not kept,” he said, standing alongside Meloni in Italy’s ornate Senate.
Among the African leaders present were the presidents of Tunisia, Senegal, Kenya, the Republic of Congo and Somalia. In all, 45 African states were represented at various levels.
Critics have said that heavily indebted Italy cannot hope to compete with the likes of China, Russia and Gulf states, that are all looking to boost their presence in Africa, which is home to many of the world’s natural resources.
While Rome claims ownership of the plan, which it has named after the late Enrico Mattei, who founded state oil company Eni, Meloni said her government would look to help from the private sector and international bodies such as the European Union.
Underscoring that point, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and the head of the EU Parliament were all at the Rome meeting.
“The Mattei Plan… fits perfectly into our European Global Gateway worth 150 billion euros. This is our plan for Africa,” von der Leyen told Monday’s gathering, referring to an infrastructure project unveiled in 2021.
Meloni has made the Mattei plan a central plank of her foreign policy since taking office in late 2022.
Energy needs lie at the heart of the initiative, with Rome looking to serve as a gateway into European markets for natural gas from Africa that has become vital after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made diversification of supplies a priority for the EU.
Eni, Italy’s largest importer of natural gas, has already countered lower Russian supplies by shipping increased volumes from Africa, where it has had a presence for decades.
The company has said Algeria, Egypt and Libya will be Italy’s main gas suppliers for the next few years.
But Meloni also said Europe had to bolster industry and agriculture in Africa to strengthen local economies as a way of persuading disaffected young Africans from migrating north.
Some 157,600 boat migrants reached Italy last year, the largest number since 2016, undermining Meloni’s electoral pledge to halt the flow of unauthorised arrivals.
Most departed from North African countries such as Tunisia and Libya, many fleeing poverty and conflict in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
“Mass immigration will never be stopped, human traffickers will never be defeated if we do not address the many causes that push a person to leave their home,” Meloni told the summit. “This is exactly what we intend to do.”
(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alex Richardson and Sharon Singleton)