Debate over Mattei Plan, Africa's future at Rome's European Parliament

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's Mattei Plan will allocate 5.5 billion euros to development in Africa

ROME — At Via Quattro Novembre’s European Parliament offices last week, Mediterranean and African politicians, diplomats, and public servants convened to discuss Italy’s role in promoting sustainability in Africa. “We can do more, we want to do more,” said Fabrizio Spada, head of institutional relations for Italy’s EP.  

In panels on media coverage of climate change, Prime Minister Meloni’s recently announced Mattei Plan, and lifestyle and food security, speakers underscored time and again Africa’s particular vulnerability to the dangers of climate change.  

Rome's “bizarre winter of 2023-2024" should open Western Europeans’ eyes to what Africa and the southern Mediterranean “have been suffering for a long time,” said Rajae Naji El Makkaoui, Moroccan ambassador to the Holy See. 

The speakers said that natural disasters, food and water scarcity, and biodiversity erosion all caused by climate change threaten to usher in a period of conflict and of large-scale migration — an International Fund for Agricultural Development representative said the IFAD expect at least 73 million people to be displaced because of food insecurity by 2040 — beginning in Africa and spreading across the globe. 

Speakers argued that the EU must invest particular attention in African sustainability to combat those impending crises and to limit Russian and Chinese influence. Said Paolo Gentiloni, Italian commissioner to the EU: “the more we talk about Africa the better.”  

Europe must help African governments explore the development of resilient crops and soils which can survive harsh and warm climates, said Jo Puri, IFAD vice president. She and Francesco Corvaro, the Italian special envoy for climate change, both advocated for new attitudes towards international and interagency cooperation.  

Contemporary diplomacy is “outdated,” Corvaro said. To address the climate change crisis effectively nations must engage with each other on equal footing and with mutual respect, he said. He expressed optimism that Meloni could use her G7 Presidency to “make a change.” 

A slate of members of Meloni’s Fratelli d'Italia party who participated in the daylong conference touted the prime minister’s Mattei Plan: a 5.5-billion-euro commitment to sustainable development in Africa.  

One FDI member called the Mattei Plan the “start of a new dialogue with Africa”; FDI senator Marco Scurria called it a “new page,” free from the shadow of colonialism, in the history of Italian-African cooperation 

FDI EU delegate Nicola Procaccini said that the Mattei Plan would provide a path — “another street another strategy,” he said — for the EU to become an alternative to China in Africa.  

But African participants in the conference shared largely different perspectives.  

Moroccan Ambassador Makkaoui appreciated “the thrust” of the Mattei Plan. But its efforts are “absolutely” not sufficient, she said.  

She said the Plan allocated “far from the trillions of euros needed to support third-world countries transition to sustainable energy.” Mmathari Mashao, minister of the South African Embassy in Rome, said that the Mattei Plan “on the face of it looks and sounds good.”  

He expressed scepticism, though, about its efficiency. The plan was presented as fait accompli, he said. “But if you want people to buy in, you engage them prior; you seek their advice; you get to know what they think.” Italy’s, and Europe’s, success in Africa will depend on their willingness, and effort, to engage with African States and players, he said.  

And he urged European nations to “stop coming to the Continent and saying ‘China’ this, ‘Russia’ that.” He argued that in contrast to European countries, Russia and China shared long histories of good-faith efforts to promote African self-sufficiency. 

"Don’t talk about them, he repeated. “They don’t talk about you.”