Italy is building ties with Algeria, and could bring it closer to the West

Italy’s new prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, visited Algeria last month to strengthen ties between the two countries, her first visit to North Africa since taking office last year. This trip shows how important Algeria is to Italy.

Meloni met with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and the two countries signed agreements on energy, space and economic cooperation. However important these negotiations are, the main value of this visit is geopolitical, and Algeria is seen as a key element of Italy’s strategy for the wider Mediterranean.

Italy’s increased focus on Algeria is useful for maintaining Algeria-EU relations alongside its transatlantic interests.

Rome’s interest in Algeria is neither temporary nor tied to a particular political party. Rather, it is part of the geopolitical vision of a divided system in Italy’s political framework and institutional structure. From this point of view, Algeria is a pillar of regional stability and an important player in the Mediterranean region, a key geostrategic area for Italy.

The Russia-Ukraine war and Italy’s need to reduce its dependence on Russian energy supplies may have accelerated this trend, but geopolitical dynamics were already at work. Energy is a very relevant document, but Italy’s interest is not limited to this sector, as relations with Algeria are moving towards a comprehensive strategic partnership.

Italy sees Algeria as an important player in the Maghreb and Sahel region, and its influence can benefit many other countries based on Roman geopolitical calculations, such as Libya and Tunisia. Libya, Italy and Algeria are committed to maintaining unity, supporting the UN-backed government and preventing chaos in the country’s west.

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In Tunisia, Algeria’s security and economic cooperation has helped it overcome years of crisis, and Algeria remains the only country capable of influencing President Kais Sayyid.

Change your approach?

Algeria is also considered a stabilizer in the Sahel. Algeria’s experience in fighting terrorism and its knowledge of regional countries and leaders make it unique. Although it has historically refrained from military intervention in this space, it intervened diplomatically in 2015 with the Algerian accord in Mali.

But there are signs that this trend may be changing. The new constitution makes it clear that the president can send “army units” abroad with a two-thirds vote of parliament and that Algerian troops can participate in peacekeeping operations abroad. Moreover, the recent increase in military spending indicates that Algeria is looking to strengthen its capabilities and is perhaps willing to take on more responsibilities.

Algerian military commander Said Chengriha (C) and French Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Lecornu (R) in Paris on January 24, 2023 (AFP)
Algerian military commander Said Chengriha (C) and French Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Lecornu (R) in Paris on January 24, 2023 (AFP)

Italy’s increased focus on Algeria is useful for maintaining Algeria-EU relations alongside its transatlantic interests. Algeria has historically feared foreign interference; As Morocco joins the Abraham Accords in 2020, geopolitical changes will put pressure and anxiety on Algerian elites. A normalization deal with Israel could have positive diplomatic results, but it leaves the Palestinians out, a situation Tebbuneh has been highly critical of.

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By strengthening relations with Algeria, Italy will serve not only its own interests, but also those of the EU and the United States. Algeria’s recent disputes with Spain (which recently ended fifty years of neutrality over Western Sahara) and France (which has soured its colonial past) show that Morocco is now more important in the public eye. The Americans risk sending a message that Algeria is increasingly isolated after joining the Abraham Accords.

As for France, the two sides are trying to restore relations, as evidenced by the Algerian army chief’s first visit to Paris in 17 years this month, but the situation remains complicated.

A risky concept

Growing isolation risks Algeria’s attempts to deepen ties with parties such as Russia, China and Iran. Already, relations between Algeria and Moscow are multifaceted and complex. They share important historical ties, but that doesn’t mean their agendas always align.

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Russia and Algeria have deep defense ties due to their Cold War legacy, making this relationship somewhat similar to India’s relationship with Russia, while the West has historically been reluctant to sell arms to Algeria.

Western Sahara: Algeria and Spain’s dangerous feud

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It should be remembered that Algeria considers foreign countries as potential partners, but is more cautious when considering them as friends and allies. This approach also applies to Moscow. Algeria is open to cooperation with anyone who respects its independence and sovereignty and rejects foreign interference. The notion that Algeria is bowing to Russian pressure, as proposed by Spain, which has recently been disputed between the two sides, is wrong.

Thus, Italy has a mission not only for itself, but also for Europe and the transatlantic partnership: avoiding Algeria’s isolationism would encourage it to deepen its relations with its rivals. This narrow mission requires that the relationship with Algeria be viewed not only through the lens of energy and migration, but also as a broader partnership involving other sectors, especially defense.

Italy is doing just that, and relations with Algeria are becoming important not only for both countries, but also regionally and globally.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

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