By Alejandro Cuevas Olavarría
The mini three-way summit organized by Macron at the Elysée last February 8 did not sit well in Rome.
The President of the Italian Council of Ministers, Giorgia Meloni, demonstrated this during the summit of European Union leaders in Brussels.
That Emmanuel Macron summoned Olaf Scholz and Volodymir Zelensky to Paris on the eve of the extraordinary meeting of the European Council was, in the words of the Vice-President of the Council of Ministers, Matteo Salvini, “a proof of selfishness and short-sightedness”.
True to his style, the Lega president grew up and pointed out that “Macron’s arrogance is incomprehensible”.
Tajani put it in more diplomatic terms: “It was a mistake by France (…) since there is the Quirinal Treaty (agreement signed in November 2021 for bilateral cooperation)”.
For her part, Meloni, who during the summit in Brussels did not talk with Macron at any time, remarked that the attitude of the Gallic president highlights the existence of “a Europe of series A and series B” that some countries are worth more than others.
And that is something she is not willing to accept.
Even less so after the achievements made on migration issues at the summit – even without French support – thanks to a rapprochement between Meloni and Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and the enormous backing she has received in the regional elections in Lazio and Lombardy, in which her party has been, by a generous margin, the most voted force.
Even in Lombardy, Lega’s traditional fiefdom.
That the majority of Italians are happy with the course charted in his first 100 days has been demonstrated, despite the bellows of the opposition, which claimed that the clash with Macron was going to leave Italy “isolated”.
“It’s a provincial reading,” Meloni said proudly about the attitude of the opposition, which also tried to condemn the closeness of the president of the ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) party with Mateusz Morawiecki and Petr Fiala, prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic, respectively.
Meloni closed the subject with a simple “we are in the same party”.
At the extraordinary meeting, she was, in the words of a Brussels bureaucrat, “vigorous, effective, respectful, and respected”.
And the fact is that Meloni’s Italy, despite Macron’s rebuff, has shown that it is a nation to be reckoned with in Europe and that it can afford to have its criteria – at least, for the time being – and not dance to the tune of the clapping of others.
Several sources in Roma’s cabinet have confirmed this: Italy does not intend to be part of any European bloc that would constrain it but will remain free of ties and flexible to position itself in each issue according to its objectives and principles.
Meloni had the delicacy, as “respectful and respected”, not to throw her darts at Zelensky, whom she always kept out of the line of fire towards the Frenchman.
Meloni’s commitment to the Ukrainian cause has not been questioned at any time during this year of conflict.
But even though Italy is a founding member – just like France – ithad to hold back and share Zelensky with five other European leaders – Sanchez among them – as the timing did not allow the dreamed bilateral meeting, although the subsequent conversation, although brief and standing, was substantial for both of them.
It was not so delicate the Roman with Macron, whom – he has never hidden it – has little appreciation.
Meloni can understand that the Gallic president needed a card to show to make amends after several weeks of disastrous domestic policy.
Still, she could not accept his political maneuver and charged against the Gaul for undermining “European unity”.
The unity that Tajani vindicated shortly after, calling for “a choir” and not “protagonists”, “an unbalanced Europe cannot act as it should”.
That Italy wants to be a major player in Europe and in NATO has been said openly and at all levels, but some words of the Foreign Minister have been diluted in a front page dominated by other news.
Last Friday, just a day after the clash between Meloni and Macron, Tajani assured that Africa constituted “a priority for our government”.
The foreign minister recalled that the neighboring continent is essential in the energy issue – now more than ever due to the vetoes against Russia.
This is not news to anyone who follows the news in the sector: in 2022, Algeria exported 10% more gas to Italy than the previous year. 25 billion cubic meters, representing US$59.8 billion, compared to US$35 billion in 2021 – an increase, therefore, of 70%.
Algeria became Italy’s main natural gas supplier following the agreement reached during Mario Draghi’s government.
Italian oil giant ENI forecasts that the country will be able to eliminate its gas imports from Russia in the winter of 2024 to 2025.
In a new context of energy needs and flow rearrangements, Italy has seen the opportunity and taken advantage of its privileged position at the center of the Mediterranean to become an “energy bridge” between producer and customer.
A position, moreover, shared by Spain – a country that had more chances than Italy to become the toll of this new flow – but which, after a series of decisions and due to its drastic consequences, will now be impossible to exploit.
But Africa is important for its energy potential and wealth of raw materials, today essential and irreplaceable in European industry.
As Tajani himself said: “We are the second largest manufacturer in Europe”.
On this issue, however, Italy is again distancing itself from France.
“We need closer relations with (African) countries, not with the eyes of a colonizer, but sitting down as equals.” Tajani’s darts are perhaps more subtle than those launched by Meloni but just as accurate.
Italy wants its companies, backed by their “extraordinary know-how” and seriousness, to be “protagonists” in Africa, but “with African labor” and through the creation of “joint ventures”.
Meloni has already said that the solution for Africa and Europe is to change the relationship model.
New clash with the French, whose plundering strategy had already been denounced in January 2019 by the Italians.
“This is called CFA franc (African Financial Community). It is the colonial currency that France prints for 14 African nations (…) by which it exploits the resources of these nations.”
“This is a child working in a gold mine in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest nations in the world. But in Burkina Faso, which has gold, France prints colonial currency and demands in return that the French treasury coffers receive 50% of everything Burkina Faso exports.”
“The gold that this child (…) extracts ends up mostly in the coffers of the French state.”
“So the solution is not to bring Africans to Europe: the solution is to free Africa from certain Europeans who exploit it and let these people live on what they have!”.
These are words, for the moment, only uttered but underpinned in 2023 by his foreign minister.
However, they are not exact, as we already know that it is not true that the countries of the African Financial Community – a euphemism for former French colonies – must pay 50% of their exports to the French State, but that they are only obliged to deposit 50% of their foreign exchange reserves with the French Treasury.
But for Meloni, Africa cannot be the slave of Europe, and Europe cannot be the salvation of Africans.
Her strategy is clear: end the continent’s asymmetrical relations and the “colonizer” attitudes and encourage its growth with investments.
“But the Italian ones are not enough,” Tajani said. “We need a European strategy.”
And this is how the circle is closed in Italy: united Europe, not series A and series B.
With information from LGI