I più significativi cambiamenti politici prodotti dalle cosiddette Primavere arabe si sono concentrati in Nord Africa. Tre paesi – Tunisia, Egitto, e Libia – hanno infatti visto la destituzione di dittatori di lungo corso, mentre la mentre la monarchia marocchina è stata costretta a concedere, per fiaccare le proteste, una significativa revisione costituzionale. In un tale contesto, la stabilità del regime autoritario in Algeria è emersa come sorprendente. Questo non significa, ovviamente, che il paese non sia stato attraversato da movimenti di contestazione.
North Africa is a geographically strategic region for Italy. Currently, however, the region navigates troubled waters. The Libyan crisis, the rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS), migration flows and economic and energy relations in the Mediterranean basin are key priorities for Italian foreign and security policy. On Libya, the country’s internal chaos has paved the way for the expansion of IS and further increased migration flows from the region. Turning to Egypt, until recently Italy used to be its first European economic partner. However, relations with the al-Sisi regime worsened in the aftermath of the Regeni diplomatic rift. At the same time, Tunisia is facing a difficult transition and the future of the Algerian leadership seems to be still uncertain. How is the Italian government coping with current challenges? The Vienna conference (May 16), co-chaired by Italy and the United States, aimed at finding viable options to the Libyan impasse. Over the last two years, Matteo Renzi’s government tried hard to follow a wider multilateral approach, mainly hinging upon the UN and the EU. In order to foster the Italian role in the wider Mediterranean region, Renzi sponsored Federica Mogherini’s appointment as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR). Despite all these efforts, Italy is still struggling to cope with the many challenges in its southern neighborhood. Although the Italian government is working to escape the fate of a stalemate in the region, a way out from the crisis is still there to be found.
Geography makes Northern Africa a strategic region for Italy. Nowhere is this more evident than in energy relations, as large natural gas pipelines today run from Algeria (via Tunisia) and Libya over the Mediterranean seabed to reach Italy’s southern shores. These pipelines are the outcome of negotiations that lasted years and, at the same time, a testament to long-term relationships, almost unbroken by political ups and downs.
In June 2014 the then President of the European Council, Belgian Hermann van Rompuy, arrived in Rome on a secret mission. He was to deliver an important message to Matteo Renzi – who had replaced Enrico Letta as Italian Prime Minister just a few months before. The message was on behalf of Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Jean-Claude Juncker, winner of the recent European elections as EPP leader and incoming European Commission President.
Tunisia is one of the key partners for Italian and European politics in the southern Mediterranean. At least, it should be so. The perception, on the other hand, is that most European partners have forgotten Tunisia. The reason is simple: the country had a relatively peaceful “revolution” if compared with other North African countries and five years after taking its path towards democracy this seems to be successfully launched. Unlike Libya or Syria, Tunisia is at peace.
Libya has always been among Italy’s priorities in foreign policy, if not the main item on the country’s agenda. The Vienna conference (16th May) was co-chaired by the United States and Italy. The Conference tried to give a new impulse to the solution of the Libyan crisis.
After the achievement of unification, one of the Italian political élite’s main aims was recognition of the country as a “great power” by the members of the international system. Such ambitions sharply contrasted with Italy’s political weakness, as well as with its economic and social backwardness. In spite of everything the Italian authorities began to dream of an African empire, on the model of the great European powers, which were involved in the “scramble for Africa”.
The arrival in Sicily on May 13 of 898 migrants, mainly from Egypt, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia, marked an important new development in migration routes from North Africa to Italy. Instead of taking the sea from Libya, as is usually the case, the two fishing vessels rescued by the Italian navy in international waters started the crossing from Egypt. After few minor cases in the last two months, this massive arrival is clear evidence that the Egyptian route has officially reopened.
Trade, business, geography, geopolitics and wars. Since Caesar’s time, it has been hard to find two countries on the shores of the Mediterranean as connected as Egypt and Italy. After the discovery of the Zhor gas field, with a potential investment of 10 billion euros, ENI, the Italian oil and gas company, became an essential partner in the development of the Egyptian energy. With trade worth 5 billion euros, Italy was Cairo’s leading European partner.
It is well known that the oil and gas sector is the backbone of the Algerian economy, accounting for about 35 per cent of gross domestic product, and two-thirds of total exports; that the first commercial oil discovery was in 1956 and that production started in 1958 during the bloodiest anti–colonial revolt of national liberation in Arab history. And that Italy was at that time – and still is - in great need of this resource for its own development.