Italy and Mediterranean Africa
Italy advocates strategic diplomacy with Mediterranean Africa

The Mattei Plan is the cornerstone of Giorgia Meloni's government's approach to African economies
Continent Africa


The cornerstone of the new "romance" between Italy and the countries of Mediterranean Africa has a name and a surname: the Mattei Plan, in honour of the founder of Eni (Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi), Enrico Mattei.

The European Think Tanks Group (ETGG) notes that for the first time there is a plan with the potential to "change the rules of the game" for Italy's development cooperation with Africa.

Meloni's approach has been gradual until he announced the Mattei Plan, which comes with initial funding of 5.5 billion euros and focuses on five key areas: education, agriculture, health, energy and water.

In Mediterranean African countries, Italy is seen as a new strategic partner, a fresh bridge for investment and development cooperation that also brings them closer to the European Union (EU).

Giorgia Meloni's accession to power in October 2022 has repositioned Africa among her foreign policy priorities: the prime minister, a member of the Brothers of Italy party, has taken a proactive stance in seeking key rapprochement with Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, but she is not leaving out the rest of the African continent either.

It is about potential investments in the energy sector, strengthening the path of cooperation and a new form of partnership by mobilising public and private investment.

The Instituto Affari Internazionale speaks of a 'change of mentality' in Italy and in its foreign policy towards Africa, away from reproaches, to offer alternatives with solutions that, through investment and cooperation, contribute to the progress of the economies.

However, Rome does not want relations to be limited to the energy sector: there are high-level trade and investment missions, and Algeria's own president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has described this rapprochement as "transcendental". Even the local press praises its European partner.

In addition to Algeria, he also sought a rapprochement with the Libyan government: in Tripoli he met with his counterpart, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, and the two signed an 8 billion dollar gas deal involving the Italian energy company Eni and the National Oil Corporation of Libya (NOC).

Italian diplomacy is being cross-cutting. Significantly, Meloni received in Rome Khalifa Haftar, the self-styled leader of the Benghazi militia, with whom he discussed the challenges of migration flows and the need for Libya to have an environment of peace, security and stability.

In turn, with Tunisia, Rome's stratagem rests on a series of alliances. Meloni has met several times with Tunisian President Kais Saied, and has even mediated for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to speed up the delivery of an aid package that, so far, has not been granted.


Investments to create progress

With the current initiative, Rome aims to become a gas hub for the European market, capturing African natural gas and distributing it efficiently and at a competitive price.

Silvia Borrelli wrote for the Financial Times that Italian industry experts believe Eni's deep knowledge of the African continent and its long-standing commercial ties with Middle Eastern countries could become a national asset as Europe works to secure new sources of energy. Eni has been operating in Africa since 1954 and is present in 14 countries.

Indeed, Claudio Descalzi, Eni's chief executive, told the Financial Times that closer collaboration with African countries on energy offered the potential for a new south-north axis that will connect the African continent's abundant fossil fuel and renewable resources with Europe's "energy hungry" markets.

"Africa has abundant energy resources, but its development has suffered from a lack of investment. A sub-Saharan pipeline project from Nigeria to Algeria, for example, has been in the pipeline for decades. Eni and Snam, which already operate parts of the trans-Mediterranean pipeline from Algeria to northern Italy, have an important role to play," wrote Borrelli.

Meloni envisages that the Mattei Plan could even trigger an African corridor for renewable energy, as well as green hydrogen. With the Plan already underway, Meloni travelled to Egypt in March to meet with President El-Sissi. The two signed a Memorandum of Understanding to invest in the Egyptian agricultural sector and in training programmes; collaboration in health and support for SMEs.

Accompanied by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and the prime ministers of Belgium and Greece, the Egyptian economy received a 7.4 billion euro aid package.

Already in Rome, at the African summit on 29 January, it was announced that a series of aid, financing and investment would begin this year.

The summit was attended by representatives from 45 African countries, including 20 leaders who discussed a series of initiatives in education, health and energy, as well as agricultural production.

"We believe it is possible to imagine and write a new chapter in the history of our relationship, a cooperation between equals, far from any predatory imposition or charitable stance towards Africa," according to Meloni.

To the 5.5 billion euros of the Mattei Plan, public guarantees were added for investment projects and 3 billion euros in favour of a climate fund that has been in place since 2021.

As part of its G7 presidency this year, Italy aims to make African development a central theme to increase its influence on a continent where powers such as China and Russia have major interests, and diplomacy, plus investment, are key.