The Italian minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, announced to the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committees the 2019 Italy’s MFA Strategy.

According to Di Maio, the strategy he adopted is in line with his main goal: bringing Italy back on the decision-making process, both at the international and European levels, for what concerns the strategic priorities of his country.

Nowadays, as stated by the Italian minister, Rome has to face on the one hand the economic opportunities that arise from the international arena, and on the other hand the worsening of the security environment in the enlarged Mediterranean. This area includes 4 geographical regions: the Middle East and North Africa; the Sahel; the Horn of Africa; and the Western Balkans. The enlarged Mediterranean was already mentioned in the 2019 new National Defense Strategy, in which, as published on Oct. 30, Rome enhanced how this area, considered to be a top strategic interest for Italy, recalls issues for which their stabilization is a “vital need” for Rome. For instance, the National Defense Strategy mentioned as key factors of concern migration; energy security; and raw materials procurement.

The coexistence of opportunities and security concerns is a characteristic of the complexity of the international arena, a reason for which Italy considers its strategies to be constantly renewed. Hence, according to its Foreign Policy Strategy, Italy must give the appropriate relevance to the role of bilateral cooperation, in addition to the already existing system of alliances.

This element is considered to be in line with the “multilateral approach” Di Maio decided to adopt for his mandate, confirming his transatlantic and Europeanist inclination, but also opening the Italian economy to the international markets.

Referring to the transatlantic partnership, the National Foreign Policy Strategy is in line with what emerged after the official State visit of the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to whom Di Maio confirmed the Italian commitment to NATO and the value it attributes to the Atlantic Alliance. More in the specific, during his speech at the parliamentary committees, Di Maio clarified that Washington remains Italy’s first Allied and that the transatlantic partnership, historically based on the defense of the democracy and on rule of law, also lies on the European integration. With regards to the European approach, it is to be highlighted the geopolitical location of Italy, a factor that makes crucial the promotion of measures directed towards the enlarged Mediterranean.

This region, according to the MFA, is not only rich in terms of challenges, but also of opportunities, a reason for which the stabilization of the Mediterranean is crucial for the Italian and European security. Many issues pose the security of the Mediterranean at risk, and terrorism is the first of such challenges. For this reason, there is the need to implement cooperation protocols among the police forces to efficiently combat terrorism and promote dialogue.

In line with the relevance Italy gives to the enlarges Mediterranean, it is to be recalled that Rome promoted a discussion at the level of the European Council on Lebanon, where protests are challenging the stability of the country since last Oct. 17. Parallelly, as recalled by Di Maio during his speech, Italy also promoted a discussion on Turkey after it launched the “Peace Spring” operation on Oct. 9 in Nort-Eastern Syria, a decision for which Di Maio urged the EU Member States to halt arms sales to Ankara.

Focusing on the enlarged Mediterranean, and starting from the Middle East, Italy’s strategy towards Iran is the one of maintaining a dialogue with Teheran “so that the Middle-Eastern arena won’t furtherly be destabilized”. To accomplish this goal, Italy wants to include in the agenda 6 issues, namely Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, missile and WMD nonproliferation, the security of navigation, and Human Rights.

Moving to Africa, the continent is to be considered as a source of global challenges and growth opportunities. From this perspective, Italy intends to invest as a priority in the stabilization of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. For what concerns North Africa, the Italian minister recalled during his speech what emerged after his Nov. 1 official State visit in Morocco, where he signed a bilateral agreement establishing the framework for cooperation in several fields, among which there is migration. Concerning migration, Italy also wants to strengthen relations with Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia, being the latter the main source of migrants who disembark on the Italian shores.

Migration, however, also recalls the attention on repatriations, on which Di Maio recalled, during his speech on the new Foreign Policy Strategy, the new inter-ministerial decree on migrants, signed on Oct. 4 with the ministers of Justice, Alfonso Bonafede, and Interior, Luciana Lamorgese. The decree approved a list of safe countries, for which Italy will reduce the repatriation procedure. The countries that have been designated as “safe” are 13, namely Albania, Algeria, Bosnia, Cape Verde, Ghana, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Morocco, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, Tunisia, and Ukraine.

Moreover, remaining on the migration issue Italy has the intention to improve the MoU Italy signed with Libya in 2017, with which Rome committed to provide economic aids to improve migrants’ accommodation facilities and to give assistance to Libyan authorities to fight against illegal migration.

Concerning Libya, Italy gives the north African country a special relevance. This has been shown with Di Maio’s meeting with his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, during the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and with the Nov. 11 meeting between the Italian PM, Giuseppe Conte, and his German counterpart, Angela Merkel. On that occasion, Conte ensured the two countries are working together to grant the positive outcome of the Berlin Conference on Libya, which aims at promoting a rapid ceasefire and at restarting the political dialogue, being a military solution not conceivable to Italy.

The last geographical area that is included in the enlarged Mediterranean region is the one of Western Balkans, for which Italy is committed to sustaining its European integration path, despite the halt Macron gave on Oct. 17 to Albania and North Macedonia.

Moving to bilateral relations, Italy is currently focused on Turkey, China, and Russia.

Turkey is currently playing a crucial role, given its involvement in Western Balkans, Middle East, Libya and in the Mediterranean more in general, aside from the interlocutions Italy has with Turkey given the transatlantic Alliance and the EU-level talks on migration. On Ankara, Italy said it has concerns over its drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranea waters and the worsening of the rule of law system. In line with this, Rome urged Turkey to adopt a “more prudent behavior in an extraordinarily complex scenario as the Syrian one”.

The strategy towards China is mainly about economic ties and trade exchanges, being, as stated by Di Maio in his speech, international contexts the ones that promote a country’s growth. In line with this, Rome and Beijing already signed several MoUs and protocols on export regulations and trade conditions. In this field, Italy has 3 main goals, namely better access to the market; fairness of treatment for the economic actors; and protection of the intellectual property rights. These priorities are considered to be enablers of further and better cooperation with China, in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, signed by Italy on Mar. 23.

Finally, on Russia, Italy announced it wants to follow a double binary approach, being the one of confirming its transatlantic vocation, while maintaining its historical ties with other international actors, namely Russia and China.

This article was firstly published on Nov. 30, 2019

Jasmine Ceremigna