Algeria, Italy look to broaden ties beyond coveted energy

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FILE - Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni attends a working session on food and energy security during the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni is looking to boost already strong energy ties with Algeria to further wean Italy off Russian energy, a focus of her two-day visit to the North African nation starting Sunday, Jan. 21, 2023. (Leon Neal/Pool Photo via AP, File)

ALGIERS – Italy and Algeria moved to broaden ties through a series of memorandums signed Monday during a two-day visit by Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, who said the two countries are in the process of building “an extraordinary bridge” that would hopefully transform Italy into an energy hub for Europe.

Algeria is Italy's “most stable, strategic and long-standing’’ partner in the region, she said at a joint news conference capping her working visit to Algiers.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said the solid strategic partnership he seeks is an opportunity for his gas-rich North African country to "go beyond the energy sector" and end its dependence on hydrocarbons.

Tebboune gave Meloni, in office just three months, a solemn welcome ahead of their private meeting that capped a visit without fanfare.

Algeria has already become Italy’s main supplier of natural gas as Italy seeks alternatives to Russian gas since its invasion of Russia last February.

The agreements underlined Italy’s ambition to become an energy hub for Europe based on imports from Africa, with a focus on Northern Africa and, notably, Algeria. That goal is dubbed the “Mattei Plan’’ for the late former CEO of Italian energy company ENI Enrico Mattei.

Meloni’s visit follows two others last year by her predecessor, Mario Draghi, who secured for Italy pledges that increased imports of Algerian gas from 14 billion cubic meters (494 billion cubic feet) in 2021 to 20 billion cubic meters (706 billion cubic feet) in 2022.

“This is a model of collaboration on an equal basis, to transform the many crises that we are facing into opportunities,’’ Meloni told a joint news conference. “It is a model of development that allows African nations to grow based on what they have, thanks to a non-predatory approach by foreign nations.”

The CEO of Italian energy company ENI, Claudio Descalzi, signed two agreements with the Algerian energy giant Sonatrach to develop projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing gas exports to Italy and possibly building a pipeline to transport hydrogen to Italy.

Meloni said that one of the accords aims to increase energy exports from Algeria to Italy, “therefore, potentially from Algeria to Europe" via a new pipeline. Such a pipeline would transport “an energy mix we both see as the solution to the energy crisis,” she said. Details on the nascent project were not immediately available.

“In this historical era, we need to tackle a difficult situation (globally) and we must do it by building bridges,” Meloni said, adding that what Italy and Algeria are doing “is the confirmation of an extraordinary bridge” that will be useful to all of Europe, “especially when it comes to energy supply.”

Tebboune said that talks focused on gas “and we want Italy to become a platform for distribution of Algerian energy products in Europe.” But, he added that “we want to enlarge our cooperation beyond energy.”

Italy’s Confindustria industrial lobby agreed to pursue greater cooperation with Algerian business, and the Italian Space Agency signed an agreement to share knowledge and develop joint projects with its Algerian counterpart.

In a deal concluded last year, the port city of Oran will be producing the Fiat brand of Italian automaker Stellantis, with cars expected to roll off assembly lines by year's end. Motorcycles will be made in the city of Guelma.

Italy's economic model based on large and small companies “interests us to help Algeria get out of dependence on hydrocarbons.”

The visit marks the 20th anniversary of the declaration of friendship and cooperation between Italy and Algeria. Tebboune said that commercial exchanges doubled in 2022 to $16 billion from $8 billion a year earlier, “the proof an effective partnership in an ascending dynamic.”


Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy and Andrea Rosa in Rome contributed to this report.