African leaders gathered at a Rome summit Monday where Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will unveil her much-hyped plan for the continent, aimed at transforming Italy into an energy hub and stopping migration.
Far-right leader Meloni, who came to power in 2022 on an anti-migrant ticket, has vowed to reshape relations with African countries by taking a “non-predative” approach inspired by Enrico Mattei, founder of Italy’s state-owned energy giant Eni.
Meloni’s so-called Mattei Plan hopes to posit Italy as a key bridge between Africa and Europe, funnelling energy north while exchanging investment in the south for deals aimed at preventing migration.
“The objective is to present to African countries our vision of African development. This means a new, non-predatory, non-paternalistic approach… a peer-to-peer approach to grow together,” Meloni said in an interview with national broadcaster Rai.
Representatives of over 25 countries began arriving Monday at the summit held at the Italian senate, dubbed “A bridge for common growth”, along with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and representatives of United Nations agencies and the World Bank.
Those due to attend included African Union Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, Tunisian President Kais Saied, Senegal President Macky Sall, as well as the presidents of the Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Other countries, like Algeria, Chad, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were due to be represented by ministers.
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 in a continent where powers such as China, Russia, India, Japan and Turkey have been expanding their political clout.
Meloni has said the plan is to start with a series of pilot schemes with the aim of then extending them across the continent. Investments will be made particularly in the energy, infrastructure, agriculture, water, health, and education sectors, her office said.
Experts warned Italy may struggle to get key support for a new deal from the European Union, which unveiled its own Africa package worth 150 billion euros ($160 billion) in 2022.
Meloni’s government, which cut funds for foreign aid last year, has formally allocated a more modest 2.8 million euros a year from 2024 to 2026 for the Mattei Plan, details of which are scant.
She 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 over 40 percent of Africans who have no access to energy at all.
Rome’s plan is to swap energy investments for efforts to curb migration.
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 from North Africa.
But landings in Italy have in fact risen, from some 105,000 in 2022 to almost 158,000 in 2023.
The Mattei Plan intends to tackle so-called push factors and persuade origin countries to sign readmittance deals for migrants refused permission to stay.