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Meloni joins the race for influence in Africa

Italy's Prime Minister has outlined a series of initiatives to curb mass migration at a one-day summit in Rome in exchange for promises of investment

Italy's far right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni says she understands that blocks on development in Africa are at the heart of the migration story.

'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 at a one-day summit attended by more than two dozen African leaders and European Union officials, she outlined several initiatives, pledging €5.5 billion (US$5.95bn), including state guarantees.

But there is little clarity on how and where this money would be spent. The gathering in Rome was attended by 50 delegations, including the Presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament, Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel and Roberta Metsola.

The leader of the nationalist Fratelli d'Italia, Meloni made curbing migration the main priority of her government. Her so-called Mattei plan, named after Enrico Mattei, the founder of the oil company Eni, focuses on energy cooperation with African countries and on helping them in different areas including health, education, and other several other sectors, but its main purpose is to address the root economic causes of mass migration from Africa.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Italy overhauled its gas supplies to put this at the heart of its strategic relationship with North Africa, especially Algeria, Libya and Egypt (AC Vol 64 No 6, Energy drives Italy's turn to Libya).

As Italy signed investment commitments and political deals to underline new contracts in North Africa, its politicians were in lockstep with the country's oil giant.

Meloni has been at the heart of the EU's efforts to broker 'cash for migrant control' deals with Tunisia and Egypt, last year telling Tunisia's President Kaïs Saïed that Italy would provide economic support in return (AC Vol 64 No 13, Brussels deal rescues Saïed). 

The Meloni government has briefed that it wants to make African development a central theme to enhance its influence as part of its G7 presidency this year.

Italy has a tradition of relatively close relations with Mediterranean countries such as Tunisia, Libya, partly Algeria and Egypt as well, but less so with sub-Saharan Africa.

The Italian government says that it intends to tackle so-called push factors and persuade origin countries to sign readmittance deals for migrants refused permission to stay in Italy.

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