Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni launched a summit of African leaders on Monday to demonstrate Italy’s ambitious development plan for the region, which her government thinks will reduce migratory flows, diversify energy supplies, and build a new link between Europe and Africa.
However, the initiative received a chilly and cautious reaction at first, with African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat addressing the summit that African countries would have preferred to be engaged in before Italy implemented its plans.
“We need to move from words to actions,” Faki, Chad’s former prime minister, said at the meeting. “We cannot be happy with promises that are never maintained.”
The summit, the first major event of Italy’s Group of Seven leadership, brought together two dozen African leaders, key officials from the European Union and the United Nations, and representatives from international lending organizations.
Italy, which has been at the centre of Europe’s migration debate for decades, has promoted its development plan as a method to establish security and economic conditions that will create jobs in Africa and prevent its young people from making perilous voyages over the Mediterranean Sea.
Meloni proposed a series of experimental projects in specific nations in her introductory speech, claiming that Africa will be able to become a significant energy supplier to Europe, so weaning it off its reliance on Russian energy following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We want to free up African energy to guarantee younger generations a right that has previously been denied,” Meloni told the meeting in his opening statement. “Because 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.”
Meloni, Italy’s first hard-right leader since the end of WWII, has made migration control a top priority for her government.
The government’s initiative, named after Enrico Mattei, the founder of the state-controlled oil and gas company Eni, aims to broaden collaboration with Africa beyond energy in a non-predatory manner. The initiative includes trial projects in education, healthcare, water, sanitation, agriculture, and infrastructure.
“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 president and prime minister.
Italy, which was a colonial power in North Africa during the fascist era, has previously held African ministerial sessions. However, Monday’s summit—held at the Italian Senate to underscore the commitment of all Italian public institutions to the project—marks the first time it is under the head of state.
The summit comprises presentations from Italian ministers on various parts of the plan. Sergio Mattarella, the Italian president, hosted a gala dinner on Sunday night.
As the summit began, Italian green and opposition politicians prepared a counter-conference in Italy’s lower chamber of parliament to condemn the Mattei Plan as a neocolonial “empty box” that intends to exploit Africa’s natural resources once more.
Along with the Mattei Plan, Meloni’s government has negotiated contentious agreements with specific nations in an attempt to reduce Italy’s migratory burden. An EU-backed agreement with Tunisia seeks to reduce departures through economic development initiatives and legal migration prospects, while a bilateral agreement with Albania asks for the establishment of centres in Albania to handle asylum applications for Italy-bound migrants rescued at sea.