Mattei Plan, Giorgia Meloni’s mousetrap for Africa

© Agenzia Nova

The President of the Italian Council, who has invited the continent’s leaders to Rome on 28 and 29 January, promises them a partnership “on an equal footing”. The reality is less rosy: Meloni intends above all to show how a far-right government is managing the migration issue in Europe.

At the Italy-Africa Summit, to be held in Rome on 28 and 29 January, Giorgia Meloni, the President of the Italian Council, will unveil her Mattei Plan. In other words, her strategy for Africa.

This plan, named after Enrico Mattei, the founder of the Italian energy group ENI, is based on a vast programme of investments and partnerships, the details of which remain abstract and vague. In September 2023, at the UN, the Italian leader presented it as “a serious alternative to the phenomenon of mass immigration”.

Meloni’s electoral calculation

The official aim is to secure energy supplies for the European Union (EU) while helping African countries to accelerate their development in order to curb migratory flows. With the European elections less than six months away, however, there is every reason to believe that Meloni’s real aim is not so much to seduce African states with yet another cooperation project based on “partnerships of equals” as to show European voters what a far-right government can do to control immigration and ensure security.

The memorandum that the EU and Tunisia signed on 16 July 2023 under the aegis of Meloni gave a foretaste of this. This ad hoc, inhumane migration agreement amounts to outsourcing the defense of the Italian coast, deporting and abandoning migrants in the Libyan and Algerian deserts, all financed with European money. A disgrace for all the signatories. And it is this model that the Mattei Plan would like to generalize.

Illegal immigration will be one of the key issues in the European elections next June. It is precisely this prospect that frightens Europe’s conservatives and that led the European Commission and the Member States to sign the European Pact on Migration and Asylum, after several years of deadlock.

And yet, provided it is properly managed, immigration is an asset, not a burden. Giorgia Meloni, on the other hand, is using immigration in an ageing Italy to arouse public opinion and win votes in the European elections.

Presented as a strategic axis, the Mattei Plan is leading Rome into a new dynamic of cooperation with Africa. On 10 January, the Italian parliament ratified a decree-law affirming Italy’s determination to strengthen its relations with the African continent. The Meloni government advocates a relationship of equals with its African partners, positions Italy as a future hub between North Africa and the EU for the distribution of energy, and proposes a new model of cooperation (“post-colonialist” and “non-paternalistic”) between Europe and the African states.

NGO concerns

The Mattei Plan covers a wide range of areas. Yet its financing raises many questions. In October 2023, during a visit to Mozambique, Giorgia Meloni suggested that the Italian Climate Fund should support the plan. But a number of Italian and international NGOs opposed to the Mattei Plan fear that this fund, which is supposed to finance initiatives to combat climate change, will in fact only be used to finance new oil and gas exploration – especially as the ENI group has a major presence in Africa.

The Ministry of the Environment recently announced the creation of a steering committee for the Italian Climate Fund. Managed by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, it is responsible for drawing up an investment plan. But the sustainable and renewable energies so much vaunted in the speeches do not seem to be a priority, and it seems instead that an attempt is being made to steer Italy towards an economy centred on gas – which could compromise the transition to a clean and renewable energy model, which is essential if African countries are to achieve sustainable development.

The Mattei Plan is based on the concept of security, and aims to establish broad, multi-sector collaboration between Italy and African countries. Nevertheless, reducing security to the issue of migration is a misguided and even dangerous interpretation. Describing immigration as a threat flies in the face of the facts, and instead serves as a political lever used to whip up fears and consolidate authoritarian positions. This approach, often exploited by right-wing governments for electoral purposes, exacerbates problems rather than solving them.

Populist and repressive approaches, which dehumanise migrants, are neither moral nor even effective. It is essential to recognise that immigration, when properly managed, can become an asset. We must therefore turn away from strategies based on fear, and move towards policies that value human dignity and mutual development.

Humanitarian principles flouted

Given the humanitarian emergency, the Meloni government’s treatment of migrants is a source of deep concern. The Cutro tragedy [which occurred in February 2023, off the coast of Calabria], where so many innocent souls [94 people, including 35 minors] tragically disappeared, highlighted Italy’s overwhelming responsibility. This tragedy has exposed a policy where economic and electoral interests take precedence – by far – over ethical and humanitarian principles. It is imperative to challenge this type of government, which criminalises acts of solidarity, and urgent to consider solutions in which the dignity of each individual is at the heart of migration policies.

While nations such as Tunisia resist the pressure and refuse to become Europe’s border sentinels, the failure of projects such as that of the British in Rwanda shows that the solution does not lie in outsourcing the management of migratory flows.

What’s more, energy policy and migration dynamics need to be dissociated, because the geography of natural resources does not always correspond to that of migration. To move forward, it would be wise to revitalise initiatives such as the Barcelona Process, which set out to build a unified and prosperous Mediterranean – a vision that the upheavals of the Arab Spring and European inertia have left unfulfilled.

If the discourse on immigration is to once again comply with international law (and in particular the Geneva Charter), it must be based on a perspective that fully respects human rights. The initiative of the MDI think tank in the European Parliament aims to create mobility centres between Africa and the EU, and to generalise programmes such as Talent Partnerships and the EU Talent Pool. It is imperative to draw up a strategic plan to promote Africa-Europe cooperation on human mobility. The migration issue must be managed within the framework of the needs of European economies and not be exploited for electoral purposes.

Article written by Ghazi Ben Ahmed for JEUNE AFRIQUE, 27 January 2024.