ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni opened a summit of African leaders on Monday aimed at illustrating Italy’s big development plan for the continent that her government hopes will stem migration flows and forge a new relationship between Europe and Africa.
Two dozen African leaders, top European Union and United Nations officials and representatives from international lending institutions were in Rome for the summit, the first major event of Italy’s Group of Seven presidency.
Italy, which for decades has been ground zero in Europe’s migration debate, has been promoting its development plan as a way to create security and economic conditions that will create jobs in Africa and discourage its young people from making dangerous migrations across the Mediterranean Sea.
Meloni, Italy’s first hard-right leader since the end of World War II, has made curbing migration a priority of her government. But her first year in power saw a big jump in the numbers of people who arrived on Italy’s shores, with some 160,000 last year.
The government’s plan, named after Enrico Mattei, founder of state-controlled oil and gas giant Eni, seeks to expand cooperation with Africa beyond energy but in a non-predatory way. Italian officials say the plan involves pilot projects in areas such as education, health care, water, sanitation, agriculture and infrastructure.
“The basis of the Mattei Plan is a new approach — non-predatory, non-paternalistic but also not charitable,” Meloni told state-run RAI station. “It’s an approach of equals, to grow together.”
Italy, which under fascism was a colonial power in North Africa, has previously hosted ministerial-level African meetings. But Monday’s summit — held at the Italian Senate to demonstrate the commitment of all Italian public institutions to the project — marks the first time it’s under the head of state or government level.
The summit includes presentations by Italian ministers detailing various aspects of the plan. A gala dinner hosted by Italian President Sergio Mattarella was held on Sunday night.
As the summit got underway, Italian green and opposition lawmakers planned a counter-conference at Italy’s lower chamber of parliament to criticize the Mattei Plan as a neocolonial “empty box” that seeks to again exploit Africa’s natural resources.
Alongside the Mattei Plan, Meloni’s government has forged controversial deals with individual countries to try to mitigate the migration burden on Italy. An EU-backed deal with Tunisia aims to curb departures through economic development projects and legal migration opportunities, while a bilateral deal with Albania calls for the creation of centers in Albania to process asylum applications for Italy-bound migrants rescued at sea.
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