The Mattei Plan: for Africa or with Africa?

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L’Italia inaugurated its year of presidency of the G7 with an event of great symbolic significance and representative of the ambitions of the executive in office, the Italy-Africa summit of January 28-29 in Rome. The meeting has long been awaited as the first test for the strategy of “cooperation as equals” with Africa that Giorgia Meloni has insistently proposed as central to her government’s foreign policy and to measure the real extent of the so-called Mattei Plan for Africa, the project with which Palazzo Chigi intends to substantiate this strategy but for which an official programmatic document is still awaited.

The expectations behind the Summit

Rome chose to host the Summit to obtain some political dividends: first of all the return of image given by Italy’s ability to gather the main leaders of the continent at one table and to show itself in the eyes of the European partners as one of the possible leaders, if not the real driving force in relations with the governments of the continent. This corresponds to a mirror internal political objective: to demonstrate to the electorate that the government intends to address the issue in a systemic manner issue of irregular immigration, which has grown massively over the last three years, intervening with the countries of origin to create long-term solutions. Finally, a third director is the search for economic partnerships which also involve private individuals through the opening of new commercial channels with African countries. This last line of action includes the idea, already actively promoted by the government through bilateral agreements, of makingItaly an “energy hub” in the Mediterranean for all of Europe. The Italy-Africa Summit was supposed to represent the opportunity to articulate these objectives around the idea, central to the narrative of the Mattei plan, of developing a new “non-predatory” approach to the African continent.

The participants and the first feedback

The Summit at the end of January certainly marked something new compared to the recent past: the previous editions, inaugurated in 2017 by the Gentiloni government, had always seen limited participation at ministerial levels. This year, however, of the forty-six participating countries, twenty-one sent top figures such as heads of state (including those of Tunisia, the Republic of Congo, Somalia, Kenya and Mozambique) or of government (including the prime ministers of Libya, Ethiopia and Morocco). . Another significant presence was that of representatives of international and European institutions and organizations, represented by Ursula von der Leyen, Roberta Metsola and Charles Michelwhich are African, with the President of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki ahead.

To counteract this image success, however, we must note the absence of some very important countries, Nigeria first and foremost, and the sending of lower-level delegates by other key states on the African continent, such as South Africa, represented by the deputy foreign minister. Furthermore, the summit was set up as a high-level meeting between government elites, with limited involvement of civil societies, as noted by many.

What made the picture even more complex was the set of reactions that had already emerged during the work in the Senate. The intervention of Moussa Faki, in particular, was characterized by critical tones. In stating that African countries are “ready to discuss the project”, Faki lamented the lack of consultation, on the Italian side, of the African Union in the definition phase of the plan, then asking to move “from words to deeds” , given that the continent’s leaders cannot be satisfied “with promises that are often not kept”. Finally, Faki underlined how “freedom not aligned with a single bloc” is a key principle of the international relations of African countries.

The Plan was welcomed with more positive tones by the European institutions; President von der Leyen, in particular, praised the initiative as being most coherent Global Gateway europeo, to which Italy has already paid attention on several occasions. The absence of representatives from other member states such as France, Germany and Spain, however, has raised questions about the actual possibility of expanding the initiative to a European level, a fundamental prerequisite for expanding the pool of resources available to support the Plan’s ambitions.

The theme of resources

According to what was announced by Giorgia Meloni during the summit, the resources currently available for the Mattei plan amount to five and a half billion euros. Of these, a substantial part comes from the Italian Climate Fund, around three billion euros, the remaining part comes from Italian development cooperation funds. These resources should be used for initiatives structured around five priorities: water, agriculture, energy, education and training, and health, for which some “pilot projects” have been announced.

The comparison with the EU Global Gateway is a litmus test to understand the trajectory of the Mattei plan and its possible continuation. Even if the Global Gateway collects already existing European projects, the difference in volume in the resources available is clear: as regards Africa alone, the Global Gateway predicts approx 150 billion euros of investments between 2021 and 2027with a level of detail regarding the projects implemented currently not available for the Mattei plan.

A possible future for the Mattei Plan

To date one official text of the Mattei plan has not yet been published. There therefore remains space to adapt this ambitious vision in light of what emerged during the summit. The main critical issues concern first of all the resources made available, but also the actual ability to create a virtuous dialogue truly based on sharing with the African counterparts. The latter, however, cannot be limited to representatives of more or less democratic governments: if the ambition of the Plan is truly to trigger positive development processes in the medium to long term, it is essential that the involvement is extended to representatives of civil society of partner countries. Likewise, an integration of the Plan into a broader European framework – both at the level of community institutions and member states – is an indispensable prerequisite for guaranteeing adequate support in terms of resources and expertise and avoiding triggering competition dynamics potentially deleterious.

These issues will also be addressed during the presentation of the 2023 edition of the annual Report on Italian foreign policy, on Tuesday 6 February, with a round table which will see the participation of politicians, journalists and national experts.

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