As Italy assumes the rotating presidency of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said this week that a focus on developing strategic partnerships with Africa, rather than providing aid, will be key during its one-year tenure.
Developing local economies and raising living standards in Africa, she said, could dissuade prospective migrants from seeking refuge in Europe.
Meloni told a news conference that the Mattei Plan — named after Enrico Mattei, founder of the state-controlled oil and gas giant Eni — includes specific projects beyond energy deals. Details will be unveiled later this month at a Rome conference, she said.
Professor Nicholas Westcott of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London welcomed the announcement.
It’s an “encouraging development, but it needs to be delivered on,” he told VOA, saying that previously “there has been more talk than delivery along these lines.”
Westcott, who was formerly the European Union’s managing director for Africa, said the EU had put up “a significant sum of money to encourage investment, but it hasn’t had much impact yet.”
He said the EU needs to “up its game in terms of effective investment in Africa.”
“Now is a good time to do it. Africa is starved of investments,” Westcott said. “The demands for investment allow for the economies to adapt to climate change, which is already having quite a dramatic impact in Africa.”
Most of the nearly 261,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean Sea from northern Africa in 2023 entered Europe through Italy, according to the United Nations. Italy’s stringent immigration laws and restrictions on sea rescue charities have not stemmed the tide.
Meloni’s government says it is open to legal immigration to help plug labor gaps in Italy, which has one of the world’s oldest and shrinking populations.
Westcott said the plan’s underlying motive of reducing illegal migration from Africa is “politically realistic” in Europe.
“The far right … is using this anti-immigrant card to increase their vote in Europe, and without constructive policies to tackle the problem, there will be more destructive policies introduced,” he said.
Maddalena Procopio, an Africa analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA that Italy wants “to build cooperation and serious strategic relationships in Africa as equals not predators.” She cited the energy cooperation Africa has provided Italy that helped it move away from Russian gas.
Procopio said that while migration concerns play a big role for Italy and the EU, “the Mattai Plan is more economically oriented.”
“Italy and Europe in general are talking a lot about a shift from aid, from development cooperation to economic partnership,” she said. “But it’s unlikely that we will see a real shift, reduction of aid, so it’s more likely to be both.
“The fact that the focus is an economic partnership and not only development cooperation means a good and pragmatic change of approach. Africa has massive needs in terms of financing: infrastructure, energy access, health, education.”
Procopio said EU and Western public finance alone will not be sufficient to address such development needs, so private funds will be necessary.