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Italy: Meloni pitches migration plan at Africa summit

January 29, 2024

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni pitched a series of pilot projects to African leaders as part of a development plan to boost economies of African countries and curb the flow of migration to Italian shores.

The plan by Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni sought to lay out the groundwork for cooperation beyond energy between Italy and Africa
The plan sought to lay out the groundwork for cooperation beyond energy between Italy and Africa Image: Remo Casilli/REUTERS

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni kicked off a summit of African leaders in Rome on Monday, outlining a series of pilot projects as part of a development plan to forge a new relationship between Italy and Africa.

The plan, dubbed the Mattei Plan, is named after Italian administrator Enrico Matteo, who advocated for the growth of North African economies in the 1950s. It is aimed at stimulating investment on the continent as a way to stem migration across the Mediterranean Sea.

Meloni came into power as head of a right-wing government in 2022 and promised toreduce migration during her electoral campaign. 

However, her first year in power saw a big jump in the number of people who arrived on Italy’s shores, with some 157,600 having arrived last year, the largest number since 2016.

Meloni pitches plan to rejig Italy-Africa relations

Meloni outlined a series of pilot projects in individual countries that she said would enable Africa to become a major exporter of energy to Europe.

That would help Europe wean off its dependence on Russian energy following Moscow's invasionof Ukraine.

"We want to free up African energy to guarantee younger generations a right which to date has been denied," Meloni told the summit in an opening address.

"Here in Europe we talk a lot about the right to emigrate, but we rarely talk about guaranteeing the right to not be forced to emigrate," she said.

She is pledging an initial €5.5 billion ($5.95 billion), including state guarantees to see through the plans.

"It's a cooperation of equals, far from any predatory temptation but also far from the charitable posture with Africa that rarely is reconciled with its extraordinary potential for development," Meloni told the leaders.

Lukewarm reception to plan

The plan received a lukewarm and cautious reception initially, with African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat telling the summit that African countries would have liked to have been consulted before Italy rolled out its plan.

"We need to pass from words to deeds," Faki, the former prime minister of Chad, told the summit. "We cannot be happy with promises that are never maintained."

The presidents of Tunisia, Senegal, Kenya, the Republic of Congo, and Somalia were among those present at the summit. In all, 45 African states were represented at various levels.

As the summit got underway, Italian green and opposition lawmakers planned a counter-conference at Italy’s lower chamber of parliament to criticize the Mattei Plan as a neocolonial “empty box” that seeks to again exploit Africa’s natural resources.

Alongside the Mattei Plan, Meloni’s government has forged controversial deals with individual countries to try to mitigate the migration burden on Italy.

Albanians divided over migrant camp deal with Italy

What the summit looked like 

Two dozen African leaders, top European Union and United Nations officials and representatives from international lending institutions were in Rome for the summit.

The event was held at the Italian Senate to demonstrate the commitment of all Italian public institutions to the project and was the first major event of the country's year-long presidency of the Group of Seven economies.

Meloni had earlier this month outlined her support for African development, saying that it would be a central theme of her G7 presidency.

rm/rc (AFP, AP)