Italian Meloni eyes strengthen strong energy ties with Algeria

ALGERIA – Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is seeking to strengthen already strong energy ties with Algeria to further isolate Italy from Russian energy, which is the focus of her two-day visit to the North African nation that begins on Sunday.

Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has upset global strategic and economic dynamics, has given a new and urgent dimension to the ties between Algeria and Rome, which have long depended on Russian energy. Other European Union countries were also trying to find substitute sources for Russian energy.

Italy and gas-rich Algeria now want to build on last year’s successful initiatives by then-Prime Minister Mario Draghi to increase Italy’s energy supply from Algeria and, an Algerian diplomat said, “push beyond that.”

“We want Italy to become the European center for Algerian gas. Crossroads for other EU countries,” said the Algerian ambassador in Rome, Abdelkrim Touahria, in an interview with the Roman daily Il Messaggero, published on Saturday.

Algeria has replaced Russia as Italy’s No. 1 energy supplier, sending natural gas through the Trans-Mediterranean pipeline.

The initial contract signed last year by Draghi added 9 billion cubic meters of gas by 2023-2024, Eni said at the time. Months later, in July, a $4 billion deal was signed between Eni, the Italian energy company, Occidental and Total.

Meloni is expected to meet with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, as well as the nation’s prime minister. Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi will be among those in the delegation.

“Today we are Italy’s leading energy partner,” said Touahria. “But we aim to go beyond that.”

Touahria, Algeria’s ambassador, said Italy’s Eni and Algerian oil company Sonatrach are also looking to the future together with projects such as oil and gas exploration in the southern Sahara.

In addition to energy, a range of topics will also be discussed during the visit to Meloni, from shipbuilding to cars and startups.

Meloni’s far-right coalition at the helm won national elections in September, and it was likely that issues of immigration and migrants, dear to the European far-right, would be on the agenda.

Italy is a magnet for migrants fleeing poverty, war and other adversities in their homelands, and among them are North Africans, often from Tunisia and Algeria.

The Algerian ambassador to Italy met this week with the Italian interior minister before visiting Meloni. Italian consular officials in Rome regularly try to identify illegal migrants believed to be Algerians who are being held in Sardinia and southern Italy, Touahria was quoted as saying by Algeria’s official APS news agency.

Meloni and Tebboune met in November on the sidelines of a climate conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

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