Italy's Mediterranean route

(To Andrea Mucedola)

Giorgia Meloni's first mission to Algeria has just ended, aiming to transform Italy into the energy hub of the whole of Europe. An important strategic plan in which Italy, as announced in its keynote speech in Parliament for trust in the Government, wants "create a virtuous model of collaboration and growth between the European Union and African nations", to make one "space of stability and shared prosperity".

A "Mattei plan for Africa" ​​with European investments not yet defined, which however could be around ten billion euros, according to the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani.

What does it mean and what is it based on?

Algeria is a friendly country with which Italy has always had commercial and political relations. An important partner that is in tenth place worldwide as a producer of natural gas and sixteenth of oil (it has been estimated that it contains 1,2% of world gas reserves) with which we have always had important commercial relations. Just think that in 2021, i.e. before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Algeria was our country's second gas supplier, practically immediately after Russia.

Algerian fuel arrives in Italy via the Transmed, Trans-Mediterranean Pipeline Company Ltd. (TMPC), which connects the Capo Bon compressor station, Tunisia, to the entry point on the Italian gas pipeline network at Mazara del Vallo, Sicily, and deriving from the increase in capacity obtained after the upgrading works on the Enrico gas pipelines Mattei (GEM) and Trans-Tunisian (TTPC). The link connects several sections; the first connects the production wells of Hassi R'mel in the Algerian desert to the gas metering station of Oued Safsaf on the border with Tunisia, where it connects to the section in Tunisian territory (TTPC Trans-Tunisian gas pipeline) connecting the gas compression station di Feriana up to the Capo Bon gas compression station which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.

After Capo Bon the section becomes underwater (155 kilometres) and returns to land at Mazara del Vallo where it connects to the primary Snam Rete Gas transport network. As you will notice in the TRANSMED map, the submarine lines are different. In fact, to increase its capacity, a second gas pipeline was built (1997), parallel to the first, to collect the greater flow of gas from a third line (which only covers the Algerian section) completed in 2010.

The underwater section crossing the Strait of Sicily consists of three lines with a diameter of 510 mm and two lines of 660 mm increasing over the Italian land section. Needless to say, after the event in the Baltic, the stretch has become of strategic importance and requires continuous surveillance. The construction of the gas pipeline began between 1974 and 1975, while the laying of the submarine section from Capo Bon to Mazara del Vallo in 1978.

Il Transmed is one of the five gas pipelines that allow Italy to import natural gas from abroad, as well as other important structures such as the TAP (which allows us to import natural gas from Azerbaijan) or the GreenStream (a 520 km long gas pipeline linking Libya with Italy).

This enhanced flow could supply natural gas not only to Italy but also to other European countries, which would give Italy a privileged position for its management, effectively becoming a strategic bottleneck. In the ambitious and visionary plan of the Italian Premier, this would allow our country to become the hub of Europe for energy, primarily gas, but also green hydrogen, freeing us from dependence on Russian gas. The goal is therefore to import, by 2024/25, between 50 and 70 billion cubic meters of gas a year coming both from the strengthening of the TAP gas pipeline arriving from Azerbaijan and from Libya.

An ambitious and complex project as it is also of interest to other "friendly" countries which could see in the Italian initiative a danger to their interests which can hardly be seen as European. It would mean returning to Libya, which could further assure us from 2 to 9 billion cubic meters of gas. Last but not least, Egyptian gas, the construction or completion of other regasification terminals and the new fields discovered by ENI in the eastern Mediterranean in which there are strong Turkish interests.

Imports from Algeria are included in this all-round project, both through the aforementioned Transmed than the new Galsi pipeline1, which should connect Algeria with Sardinia and from there arrive in Livorno.

In extreme synthesis, with these flows Italy would be able to satisfy its national needs but also to supply other European countries, such as Germany but also Austria, Hungary and Poland. In practice, this energy supply plan would fill the growing demand for natural gas especially from the EU, which is looking for alternatives to Russian energy sources. A complex project in which it will be essential to coordinate with other European countries, in particular with the transalpines, whose interests in North Africa have always been very high and sometimes to our detriment.

Algeria, an important partner

And here we are back in Algeria where two gas pipelines are already functioning: the Transmed – Enrico Mattei, which reaches Italy through the Mediterranean, and the Medgas which passes directly from the northwest coast of Algeria to Almeria in southern Spain.

The pipeline Medgas it is the first deep water pipeline in the Mediterranean Sea to transport natural gas from Algeria to Spain.

Operational since April 2011, the 210km-long, 24-inch-diameter undersea pipeline is currently capable of transporting up to 8 billion cubic meters per year.

The economic relations between Italy and Algeria

Globally, Italy is Algeria's third commercial partner, first customer and third supplier. Conversely, Algeria is Italy's top trading partner in Africa and, currently, our top gas supplier, covering 34% of our energy needs (compared to 16% from Russia).

In fact, in 2022, the North African nation rose to first place as a source of gas to Italy. According to the CEO of ENI Descalzi, who was present at the state visit, after the cut of Russian gas, ties with Algeria have strengthened: “… more than 3 billion cubic meters have been given and another 3 billion in 2023 and then more. We have to think that just 2 years ago Algeria gave Italy about 21 billion, now it has given 25, we will reach 28 billion next year and then in 24-25 we will exceed it again. It is truly a strategic partner who is helping a lot for Italy”.

But not just oil and gas.
In recent years there has been a diversification of the investments of the approximately 180 Italian companies that have a structured presence in Algeria, also in areas such as the agro-food and agro-industry sectors and in renewables.

As regards imports, between September and January 2022, national imports from Algeria amounted to 12.219,43 million euros, including 4.761,48 million for mineral products, coal-based fuels and products derived from refining of oil for 672,29 million. An important slice of our import to which exports to this North African country must also be compared which, between January and September 2022, amounted to 1.633,65 million euros, marking a +26,6% compared to the same period of the previous year.

Among the most exported goods, machinery and equipment for 614,57 million euros, coke and products deriving from petroleum refining for 129,9 million euros, chemical products for 139,19 million, metallurgy products for 118,12 million, rubber and plastic items for 101,37 million but also food products for an important 93,26 million. Among the materials, steel, cement and building materials among which agglomerates-concretes represent 40% of sales, followed by tiles with 27,86% whose quantity sold is estimated at 100 million m², of of which 97,5% from the private sector.

In fact, Algeria has an industrial sector that is still underdeveloped (industry, excluding the energy sector, represents only 5% of GDP) so this opening towards Algeria offers greater opportunities for the export of Italian products of all manufacturing industries. And all this, I want to emphasize, it will take place on the sea.

The role of the Italian Navy

The importance of defending national interests at sea must be reaffirmed and emphasized at all levels. The sea is not only the pleasant environment that welcomes us in all seasons but above all the medium that has allowed us to survive and prosper for centuries. The function of the Navy is to ensure national interests on the seas, wherever necessary.

Prime Minister Meloni, in his greeting to the crew of the ITN frigate Carabiniere, on the occasion of the bilateral visit to Algeria, wishing to give due recognition to the commitment of the Italian Navy, underlined that “The vast majority of our national interests travel in the Mediterranean. This is a crucial territory for us, and I in particular, representing the current Italian government, believe that the work you are doing is extremely strategic because we are once again projecting Italy as a priority into the Mediterranean for its strategic interests, but if not if there were your patrolling work, the fight against illegal trafficking, the defense and monitoring of strategic infrastructures, we would not have the preconditions to do the work we want to do".

An important acknowledgment that goes beyond the words of a circumstantial visit and once again sees our Navy as an indispensable tool for the defense of national interests along the vital sea routes for our economy.

The gas networks in Europe, note the submarine ones from North Africa and through the Ionian Sea which represent essential strategic routes which will require constant maritime control, surface and underwater, to preserve their safety.

In summary, we are experiencing an important moment which sees in the visit of Giorgia Meloni to Algeria, a few days after the visits of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio Tajani, between Turkey, Tunisia (with Matteo Piantedosi) and Egypt, the confirmation of a dialogue across the board with future partners, in an finally far-sighted vision of an Italy positioned as a Euro-Mediterranean hub, starting with gas distribution.

A dream that recalls that of Enrico Mattei who dreamed of Rome fully involved in the Mediterranean, the fulcrum between Europe and Africa, recognizing the rank and dignity of "real" states to African countries, no longer second-rate.

After the geopolitical confusion of recent years, we need decision-making and pragmatism to ensure a common prosperous future in the Mediterranean maritime theater.

1 Galsi, an acronym for Algeria-Sardinia-Italy gas pipeline, is a project that aims to build a gas pipeline 830 km long, 560 of which at sea. It will be used to import natural gas from Algeria to mainland Italy via Sardinia for an amount of 8 billion cubic meters per year. Algeria participates with 41,6%.

Photo: Presidency of the Council of Ministers / web / Transmed

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