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Italian PM Meloni's Africa plan swaps energy investment for migration curbs

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Far-right leader Meloni, who came to power in 2022 on an anti-migrant ticket, has vowed to reshape relations with African countries by avoiding the "predatory" approaches of the past in favour of one inspired by Enrico Mattei, founder of Italy's state-owned energy giant Eni.

The so-called Mattei Plan hopes to position Italy as a key bridge between Africa and Europe, funneling energy north in exchange for investment in deals aimed at curbing migrant departures across the Mediterranean Sea

Meloni said the plan would initially be funded to the tune of €5.5 billion ($5.9 billion), some of which would be in the form of loans, with investment focused on the energy, agriculture, water, health and education sectors.

Representatives from more than 25 countries attended the summit – dubbed "A bridge for common growth" – on Monday at the Italian senate, alongside European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and representatives of UN agencies and the World Bank

Meloni told them that Europe's and Africa's "destinies" were interconnected and that she was determined to pursue cooperation "as equals – far from any predatory temptation, but also from that charitable approach to Africa that is ill-suited to its extraordinary potential for development".

There was no reference to Italy's colonial past in Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and what is now Somalia.

Guests included African Union Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, Tunisian President Kais Saied, Senegalese President Macky Sall as well as the presidents of Congo-Brazzaville, Eritrea, Kenya, Mauritania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.  

Algeria, Chad, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo were represented by ministers.

The AU's Faki said Africa was "willing to discuss the content and implementation" of the plan. But he also pointed out: "We would have liked to have been consulted beforehand." 

Pilot schemes

Rome holds the presidency of the G7 group of nations this year and has vowed to make African development a central theme, in part to increase influence on a continent where key nations such as China, Russia, India, Japan and Turkey have been expanding their political clout.

The summit comes just months after Russia held its own summit with African leaders.

Other countries, including China and France, have held similar initiatives.

Meloni said the Italian plan would start with a series of pilot schemes – from modernising grain production in Egypt to purifying water in Ethiopia and providing training in renewable energies in Morocco – with the aim of then extending them across the continent.

Von der Leyen described the plan as "complementary" to the European Union's own Africa package, unveiled in 2022 and worth €150 billion.

Meloni wants to transform Italy into an energy gateway, capitalising on demand from fellow European countries seeking to slash their dependence on Russian gas following Moscow's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Critics say the plan appears too heavily focused on fossil fuels and have called instead for a renewable energy drive to supply the needs of the more than 40 percent of Africans who have no access to energy at all.

'Deadly'

Meloni, leader of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, and her main coalition partner Matteo Salvini of the far-right League, have both vowed to stop migrant boats arriving in Europe from North Africa.

But landings in Italy have, in fact, risen from some 105,000 in 2022 to almost 158,000 in 2023.

African Union chairman Azali Assoumani said it was "essential that we work in complete synergy ... to put an end to the often deadly migratory flows of Africans who have lost all hope of freedom in their respective countries on the continent".

The central Mediterranean between North Africa and Italy is the world's deadliest migrant crossing.

Nearly 100 people have already died or disappeared in the central and eastern Mediterranean since the beginning of 2024, the International Organization for Migration said on Monday.

That toll is more than twice as high as the figure for the same period of 2023, the deadliest year for migrants at sea in Europe since 2016, it said.

The Mattei Plan intends to tackle the factors fuelling the crossings and persuade origin countries to sign readmittance deals for migrants who are refused permission to stay in Italy.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Author: FRANCE 24

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