Algeria, Italy look to broaden ties beyond coveted energy

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Italy moved to deepen its ties with Algeria through a series of memorandums signed Monday during a two-day visit by Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, who called Algeria Italy’s “most stable, strategic and long-standing’’ partner in the region.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said he reiterated to Meloni that his gas-rich North African country wants a solid strategic partnership with Italy “that should 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 two-day working 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 Algeria, 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 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.

Italy’s Confindustria industrial lobby also 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.

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

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Colleen Barry in Rome contributed to this report.

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