Italy has been trying to become a gas hub in the Mediterranean for decades, as Prime Minister Meloni “discovered” on Monday, and Draghi before her. This is all about a sequence of historical and contemporary events that everyone should know about.
1) The privileged position of Enrico Mattei’s ENI in Algeria – who was killed in a 1962 plane crash in Bascapé – was achieved by financing the NLF guerrilla war against France, a colonial power that has sworn eternal hostility against us ever since. The unveiling of the monument dedicated to Mattei in Algiers coincided with President Mattarella’s visit in November 2021, before the war in Ukraine, when Algeria was already one of our largest gas suppliers, together with Russia.
2) In the 1990s, when endless massacres in Algeria left 300,000 dead, Italian carabinieri, police and secret services supported the Algerian generals against armed Islamist groups by providing intelligence, wiretapping and a security apparatus. Since then, Algeria has closed down tightly, and not even the demonstrations of the Hirak movement have changed the situation at this point.
3) In addition to the Algerian Transmed pipeline (which passes through Tunisia), we have a direct one to Sicily from Libya, the 30-billion-cubic-meter Greenstream, which works badly and at small capacity because the country is amidst the chaos of a war between internal and external militias, following the NATO war of 2011. But in Libya, divided between Tripolitania (where Turkey is present) and Cyrenaica (under Egyptian, Russian and French influence), there is more gas (and oil) than in Algeria.
4) Algeria will give us its leftover gas because it has to meet domestic consumption first, and new investments in both gas and other sources need time to become operational.
5) If there had been no war in Ukraine, we would continue to buy Russian gas, because it is cheaper than the offshore gas we want to extract from Cyprus and Egypt (and for which one needs regasifiers because pipeline projects are at a standstill).
6) There is a lot of talk about Azerbaijan’s gas (at the expense of peace in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh), a country that has little of it and has to distribute it to other European countries as well as Turkey. Rather than Azerbaijani gas, it’s likely that it will be Russian gas coming through the pipes from Turkey, since Ankara has never adopted sanctions on Moscow.
7) Algerian President Tebboune spoke out on Monday in his meeting with Meloni against Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians, but most importantly, the Algerians will give us gas if we will keep supporting them on the Western Sahara issue, over which Algiers is on a collision course with Morocco, the U.S. and Spain. In 2020, Trump recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the region as part of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel; Italy has argued for a compromise between the parties, but de facto supports the Polisario Front and the Sahrawi Arab Republic, whose government is in exile in Tindouf, Algeria. Europe’s EU-Morocco free trade agreement recognized Rabat’s rule over the coastal waters of Western Sahara, but ended up in open conflict with the rulings of the European Court of Justice (which is why the Moroccans paid for Panzeri’s lobbying network).
8) Algiers remains Moscow’s strongest ally in the Maghreb, and ENI partner Sonatrach is also in a joint venture with Russia’s Gazprom in the energy sector, an arrangement that led Putin to forgive €4.7 billion in Algerian debt.
In conclusion, everything has a cost, first political and then economic. Mediterranean policy requires well-defined and autonomous stances from the U.S. and European allies. The rest is just propaganda.
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