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The Mattei Plan Promises a New Era of Italy-Africa Relations

The Mattei Plan Promises a New Era of Italy-Africa Relations

Mar 30, 2024

Edoardo Campanile

Key Takeaways:

  • The Mattei Plan is a comprehensive foreign policy strategy approved by the Italian Parliament to foster stronger ties between Italy and African nations.


  • The Plan aims to achieve this by promoting political, economic, social, and cultural development while enhancing African stability and security.


  • The program emphasizes cooperation and investment promotion in critical areas such as education, innovation, health, environmental protection, digitalization, entrepreneurship, tourism, and migration flow management.


  • The Italian government has set three primary goals for the Plan: stabilizing energy supplies from Africa, combating illegal migration, and strengthening its position as a key player in African countries' relations with European institutions.


 

On January 10, 2024, the Italian Parliament passed the Mattei Plan, a comprehensive foreign policy strategy designed to enhance relations between Italy and African nations. The plan honors Enrico Mattei, the visionary late president of the National Hydrocarbon Agency (Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi), which stands as Italy's flagship in the energy sector. Mattei was renowned for his efforts to forge equitable relations between Italy and its African trading partners before his tragic death in a plane crash in 1962.


The Mattei Plan, seeking to mirror Mattei's ambitions, is a cornerstone of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's initiative to adopt a "non-predatory" stance towards Africa. Despite these intentions, the plan has its critics. Some observers remain skeptical of Meloni's proclamation, suggesting that the Mattei Plan could merely be a facade for an anti-migration agenda, cloaked in the rhetoric of cooperation and development.


What is the Mattei Plan all about?

After years of strategic withdrawal and a visible retreat from the global stage during the early 2000s, a dramatic shift occurred between 2013 and 2018 that reignited Italy's engagement with the African continent. This renewed zeal was not merely an extension of Italy's historical influence over North Africa, but a broader, more audacious venture, driven by a complex web of motives. 


At its core, the initiative was propelled by the urgent need to navigate the intricate challenges of migrant flows reaching the shores of Italy and Europe.


The Mattei Plan proposes, on the one hand, to promote political, economic, social, and cultural development and, on the other hand, to strengthen stability and security all over the African continent to benefit the long-term relationship between Italy and African states.


Moreover, special attention is devoted to reinforcing Italian national security, especially by addressing themes such as energetic supply, climatic resilience, food security, and the prevention of the principal causes behind irregular migration. But how does the Plan suggest these goals might be achieved?


The answer lies in a blend of cooperation and investment promotion, with a strategic focus on sectors like education and innovation, health, environmental protection, digitalization, entrepreneurship, tourism, and migration management. 


Beneath the surface of these initiatives, the Italian government harbors three objectives:


  1. To secure a stable energy lifeline from Africa, diversifying beyond the traditional North African providers to tap into the riches of Sub-Saharan states like the Republic of Congo and Angola.


  1. To navigate the treacherous waters of illegal migration and chart a course towards managing legal migration, by addressing the root causes of migration instead of merely barricading the gates.


  1. To ascend as a dominant force in the intricate dance between African nations and European institutions, thereby amplifying Italy's clout within the European Union.


The Mattei Plan promotes a long-term vision and demonstrates the intense effort the Meloni government is putting into reinvigorating and relaunching Italian foreign policy, which has been weakened by years of substantial slowdown, especially in the years marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Analysis

Undoubtedly, the journey toward the full implementation of the Plan is complex and fraught with challenges. Engaging with sub-Saharan African countries, like any other actor, Italy confronts the issue of "weak states." 


The region is characterized by the widespread fragility of governments and institutions, with militias and armed groups presenting significant obstacles to effective policy implementation. In such a volatile environment, executing long-term strategies proves to be a daunting task.


Another significant hurdle is the infrastructural deficit. Africa's pressing need for more roads, ports, and airports is critical to establishing a comprehensive logistical network. China has made substantial investments in constructing such infrastructure. In response, the European Union launched the Global Gateway in 2021, a €150 billion initiative aimed at supporting African development. However, the current situation still leaves much to be desired.


Additionally, a fundamental shift in the production system, particularly in agriculture and mining, is imperative. Several studies have shown that relying on a commodity-based economy, which trades primarily in raw materials, is increasingly viewed as inadequate. This model is becoming less attractive to African populations, who often see it as exploitative or a form of thinly veiled neocolonialism.


Regarding the Plan itself, several concerns arise. Firstly, there's the issue of consultation, or the lack thereof, with key stakeholders in Italy's international cooperation sector. These actors were essentially left to merely acknowledge the decisions made by the powers that be. Centering the decision-making process so closely around Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's government could potentially sideline essential bodies, such as the Development Cooperation Agency (Agenzia per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo), established in 2014 to consolidate the efforts of all relevant public and private entities in foreign policy endeavors.


Furthermore, the Plan's objectives could be articulated more clearly, and it remains uncertain which African countries will opt to join the initiative. While the strategy is ambitious, its practical application appears to be a considerable challenge.


The unveiling of the Plan elicited varied reactions across the African continent. For instance, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, criticized the Italian government for not involving African institutions in the Plan's development.


However, the Italy-Africa summit held in Rome on January 29, which was attended by 46 African states, several international organizations, and key representatives from the European Union, signals a positive outlook for the future. This gathering reflects the considerable interest and curiosity about the Plan among many African countries.


Implications

  • Businesses involved in the energy market: The success of the Mattei Plan would strengthen Italy's energy security, diversify its energy sources.


    • The implementation of the Plan would involve significant investments in energy infrastructure, thus creating opportunities for construction and infrastructure companies and investors interested in financing such projects.


    • One of the pillars of the Mattei Plan is the development of domestic energy sources, particularly natural gas and hydroelectric power. This could create opportunities for businesses involved in these sectors and increase competition in the Italian energy market. Depending on their ability to adapt to a more competitive environment, this could have positive or negative implications for businesses.


  • The role of NGOs and civil society organizations: The Mattei Plan, however, raises several environmental concerns. Its focus on hydroelectric power and fossil fuel development could negatively impact ecosystems and local communities. NGOs and civil society organizations might positively influence the Plan's application by engaging with policymakers and businesses to shape its implementation to align with their goals and values, especially with the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) criteria.


  • The implications for the European Union: The Mattei Plan could also improve energy security for other European countries. Through stronger cooperation in producing, distributing, and consuming energy resources, EU member states could reduce their dependence on outer energy suppliers.

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