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Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Italian Giorgia Meloni courts Africa

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Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has proven to be more likable than many Western leaders feared when the right-wing politician (some even called her a neo-fascist) became Italy’s prime minister in 2022. After all, she and her The far-right Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) belong to the same political group as France’s Marine le Pen and the National Rally.

During the election campaign, Meloni threw fire at many of the European Union’s (EU) most cherished values, including LGBTQIA rights and “Brussels bureaucrats” themselves. He also expressed sympathy, like other right-wingers, for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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But in office, she has proven to be a model citizen of the European Union, the G7 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Meloni has not emulated the EU criminal Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, as many expected. She has fully supported Brussels and NATO in supporting Ukraine against Russia and has strengthened Italy’s alliance with the United States.

He also appears to share some of the EU’s views on immigration, although his critics would probably say that is more because he has brought Brussels into his orbit than the other way around.

Last July, Meloni, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte signed a memorandum of understanding with Tunisian President Kais Saied. The EU agreed to provide direct budget support and accelerate EU financing related to macroeconomic stability, the economy and trade, renewable energy and people-to-people contacts.

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In exchange, Tunisia agreed to cooperate with the EU on migration control. In particular, it would prevent migrant departures by sea, address migrant smuggling and smuggling, and help foreigners trying to return to Europe from Tunisia to their countries of origin. In turn, the EU promised to improve the mobility of Tunisian citizens towards its member states.

The deal was controversial in the EU, with some member states saying they were not properly consulted before reaching it. Their concerns included Ms von der Leyen striking a deal with Mr Saied, who has been dragging Tunisia down the slippery slope of autocracy.

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Meloni has focused a lot of attention on Tunisia (visiting it for the fourth time last month) apparently for two main reasons.

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One is to establish Italy as a center of African energy. The other is that Tunisia is an important launching pad to Europe for irregular migrants, and Italy is a leading destination. Although in 2024 Libya has been the main departure point and Spain the main arrival point, many irregular immigrants end up in Italy. Lucio Malan, chief whip of the Italian Senate, recently said: “Sicily is closer to Tunisia than Sicily is to Rome.”

Migration control is probably one of the main drivers of Meloni’s African policy. Among his other surprises was the first Italy-Africa summit held in Rome in January, under the theme “A bridge for common growth.” It attracted 20 African government leaders and representatives from 46 countries, including Mr. Saied. Leaders from the African Union (AU), the African Development Bank, the EU and the International Monetary Fund also attended.

The summit inaugurated the year of the Italian G7 presidency and allowed Meloni to present his so-called Mattei Plan for Africa, apparently based on the principle of “cooperation among equals.” It has six pillars: education, health, energy, water, agriculture and infrastructure.

In his speech at the summit, Meloni highlighted energy and stated that Italy’s goal was “to help African nations that are interested in producing enough energy to meet their own needs and then export the surplus to Europe, combining two needs: Africa’s need to develop this production and generate wealth, and Europe’s need to guarantee new energy supply routes.’

He said Italy had been working for some time with the EU on building the connecting infrastructure for this energy bridge, citing, for example, the ELMED electricity interconnection between Italy and Tunisia, and the new SoutH2 corridor to transport hydrogen from the north. from Africa to central Europe, passing through Italy.

Meloni said the Mattei Plan aimed to unlock Africa’s potential and guarantee young Africans “the right not to be forced to emigrate and not to have to cut their roots in search of a better life, which is increasingly difficult.” to achieve in Europe”.

EU representatives generally welcomed Italy’s plan. Ms Von der Leyen praised him for being consistent with the European Global Gateway initiative, which includes a €150 billion Europe-Africa investment package. As has been observed, it will be essential to integrate the Mattei Plan into an EU framework, since the 5.5 billion euros announced by Meloni are not enough to develop a continental strategy.

In his response, AU Commission President Moussa Mahamat lamented Italy’s lack of consultation with Africa before announcing the Mattei Plan. However, he apparently agreed with her in principle that the only effective strategy for managing migration flows was to “transform the vast regions of poverty, exclusion and human suffering into a space of prosperity and development.”

There have been other criticisms. A group of African non-governmental organizations, mainly environmentalists, chastised Italy for not consulting civil society and for focusing the plan on fossil fuels. Other critics expressed concern that the EU would jeopardize its values ​​by collaborating with people like Saied and essentially buying the support of African countries to keep migrants at bay.

Some are suspicious of Von der Leyen’s support for the Mattei Plan, noting that she faces a difficult re-election next month, in the face of growing support for right-wing anti-immigrant EU parties.

Meloni got a rather unexpected endorsement from African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina, who met with her the day after the summit. She stated that the African Development Bank was willing to work with the Italian government because “the Mattei Plan fits into the Bank’s priorities… It can count on the African Development Bank as its preferred partner.”

Adesina’s approval suggested to Italy’s Istituto Affari Internazionali that, despite its many flaws, Meloni’s plan could be saved through broader consultations within Africa, not just with elites, and by integrating it into a broader European framework.

Peter Fabricius, Consultant, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Pretoria

(This article was first published by ISS Today, a Newslodgedistribution partner. We have their permission to republish it.)

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