Is Italy Charting a Renewed Relationship with Libya? – Al Marsad

The visit to Rome on Wednesday by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA), in response to an official invitation from the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, and the three-hour meeting that was held between the two leaders at Palazzo Chigi, heralds a positive turning point from the previous Italian government’s policy towards the Libyan crisis over the past few years—a policy which marginalized Italy’s role in Libya in favour of other powerful actors such as France, Russia, and Turkey.

[Libya, 10 January 2020] – For Italy, there is much at stake in Libya, particularly for Eni, one of the seven global supermajors in the energy industry. Eni started its petroleum operations in the era of the Kingdom of Libya in 1959. Exploration and production activities have been carried out by the Italian energy giant in the continental shelf northwest of Tripoli, in the Mediterranean, as well as in the vast Libyan desert in five major concessions.

Eni’s historical relationship with the Libyan oil and gas sector has never been affected by political change: the Kingdom, the Republic, the Jamahiriya, or political turmoil in the post-Arab Spring Libya. The company has always been there even at the times where Libyan oil production was reduced to a few hundred thousand barrels per day from a record high of 5 million barrels per day in 1968 and 1969, and 1.8 million barrels per day in the years preceding the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

Source: Eni/Bloomberg

The former Italian Deputy Prime Minister and incumbent Federal Secretary of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini, through his ties with the embattled Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and his “closed ports” policy approach towards the Libyan conflict “exacerbated the state of instability and neglected economic and humanitarian support,” for Libya, according to Paolo Gentiloni, the former Prime Minister of Italy. A new vigorous Italian diplomacy vis-à-vis the rapid developments in Libya, however, is being formulated by the efforts exerted by the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio.

Matteo Salvini

The Chairman of the Libya Institute for Advanced Studies (LIAS), Dr Aref Ali Nayed referred to an active engagement of Italy in the Libyan dossier in a recent interview with Sputnik: “I was in the Italian capital a few days ago, and held extensive discussions with Italian Foreign Ministry and Italian National Intelligence Service officials, and gave them an extensive explanation of the positioning of Libya’s duly elected Parliament, its legitimate and sworn government, and its Libyan National Army.”

Dr Aref Ali Nayed revealed that the “new Italian government has built a solid base of trust with Libya’s Parliament and its Libyan National Army, and has been striving to offer a mediation platform between Libyans.”

The Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio meeting with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi, Libya.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported today that Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio “has been on a pendulum mission for days,” to address the Libyan issue. On Tuesday, the young and active foreign minister who leads also the left-wing populist 5-Star Movement first met in Brussels with his counterparts from Berlin, London and Paris. He then flew to Istanbul where he met with Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu. On Wednesday it was Cairo’s turn, where Di Maio conferred with the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, France, Greece and Cyprus. Di Maio flew again to Algiers on Thursday and plans to visit Tunis this week.

The Foreign Ministers of Egypt, France, Cyprus, Greece and Italy meeting in Cairo.

Rome feels it is high time to play a major role in the Libyan file. Consecutive Italian governments of all political stripes had close ties to Libya. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi signed in 2008 a memorandum of cooperation pledging a US $5 billion compensation package for the colonial period that involved construction projects, student grants and pensions for Libyan soldiers who served with the Italians in World War II. “The Italy-Libya MOU was temporarily suspended after the fall of Gaddafi in 2011, but was reconfirmed and renewed in July 2018 by the populist coalition of Five Stars and right-wing nationalist Northern League, which was then the ruling government in Rome. The friendship treaty provided Italian investments in billions of Euros as a kind of compensation and gesture of friendship for the exploitation of Libya during the colonial period,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported.

The relationship between Rome and Tripoli remained close over decades. Eni expanded its position as the largest foreign oil and gas producer in Libya. Around 45 percent of oil and gas production in Libya is still accounted for by Eni today. Eni has a knowledge advantage over competitors from France, Spain or Norway and was able to protect its production facilities and its interests even in the chaos after the fall of Gaddafi in 2011.

The Eni managers communicate not only with the Fayez al-Sarraj government but also with the Libyan National Army (LNA) which controls over 90% of the Libyan territory and secures all oil fields, petroleum installations, and oil terminals and facilities throughout the country.

As the Libyan National Army (LNA) continues to make solid gains in its war against the militias in Tripoli, Italy and other nations are perceiving the winds of change in the country.

© Al Marsad English (2020)

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