Italy takes first step in flagship cooperation plan with Africa, draft shows

By Angelo Amante and Giuseppe Fonte

ROME (Reuters) – A management structure including politicians and state-controlled firms will be in charge of an Italian government plan to boost energy cooperation with African countries and help curb mass illegal migration, a draft decree showed on Thursday.

The project, a flagship proposal of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, has been named after Enrico Mattei, founder of state-controlled oil and gas major Eni, but will lay the ground for cooperation beyond energy.

Under the draft decree, which is expected to be approved by the cabinet on Friday, Italy will help African nations in areas including education, exports, infrastructures, health and sustainable exploitation of natural resources.

Meloni previously said the project would aim to turn Italy into a major energy hub, distributing gas from North Africa and the Mediterranean to the rest of Europe, and address the root economic causes of mass migration from Africa.

“The Mattei Plan encourages the involvement of African states in the identification, definition and implementation of the Plan’s interventions,” the draft said.

Once heavily reliant on Russian gas, Italy managed to reduce such dependence since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and now imports the fuel mostly from North Africa through several shippers including Eni, which will play a key role in helping Italy implement the Mattei plan, government officials said.

Migration is weighing on Italy’s right-wing administration. Arrivals of boat migrants have surged this year, with nearly 144,600 coming ashore against some 86,400 in the same period in 2022, severely denting an electoral pledge to block landings.

The draft said the Mattei Plan would last four years and envisage differentiated strategies for separate areas of the African continent.

The prime minister will oversee the administration in charge of the project, but representatives from state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) and state-owned credit agency SACE will also be called in.

Italy, which will take over the presidency of the Group of Seven (G7) nations in 2024, pledged to make Africa a central theme while it is at the helm.

In July, it hosted a conference with Mediterranean and Middle East countries to discuss partnerships. Another summit with African nations was due in November, but the government postponed it after the Israel-Hamas war erupted.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante and Giuseppe Fonte; editing by Mark Heinrich)