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ENERGY

Italy signs gas deal with Algeria to reduce reliance on Russia

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced a deal on Monday to boost gas deliveries from energy heavyweight Algeria, as he steps up efforts to reduce heavy reliance on Russian imports.

Italy signs gas deal with Algeria to reduce reliance on Russia
Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Draghi has announced a deal to import gas from Algeria. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Addressing journalists after meeting President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Draghi told journalists the two governments had signed a preliminary deal on energy cooperation.

“There is also a deal between ENI and Sonatrach to boost gas exports to Italy,” he said, referring to the Italian energy giant and Algeria’s state hydrocarbons firm.

READ ALSO: ‘Peace or air conditioning?’ Italy vows to follow EU on Russian gas embargo

The firms agreed to boost gas exports through the Transmed undersea pipeline starting this autumn, gradually “increasing volumes of gas… up to 9 billion cubic meters per year in 2023-24”, ENI said in a statement.

The Ukraine war has sparked a Western push for sanctions against Moscow, including moves to drastically cut purchases of Russian gas.

Italy buys the vast majority of its natural gas from overseas, and is one of the most Russia-reliant gas importers in Europe, with over 40 percent of its imports coming from the country.

READ ALSO: Are Italy’s energy prices really falling from April?

But Italy also imports significant amounts from Algeria, including some 6.4 billion cubic metres of Algerian gas during the first quarter of 2021, a 109 percent uptick from the previous year.

The war in Ukraine and the subsequent campaign of Western sanctions have prompted Rome to step up the search for alternative sources, with gas giant Algeria an obvious option.

“Immediately after the invasion of Ukraine I announced that Italy would organise quickly to reduce its dependence on Russian gas,” Draghi said.

“The deals today are a significant response to reach this strategic goal, and others will follow.”   

Spare capacity

Draghi arrived in Algeria weeks after Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio made the same trip, during which he confirmed that Italy was “committed to increasing energy supplies, notably in gas”, including from Algeria, which he said had “always been a reliable supplier”.

Algeria’s Sonatrach said at the time that it was prepared to increase deliveries, notably via the Transmed pipeline linking Algeria to Italy.

READ ALSO: Italy rejects Russian demand for gas payment in rubles

Photo by Niklas HALLE’N / AFP

Its CEO Toufik Hakkar said Europe is the “natural market of choice” for Algerian gas, which accounts for about 11 percent of Europe’s gas imports.

But he said any boost to exports would depend on first satisfying Algeria’s ever-growing domestic needs.

Sonatrach and Italy’s ENI jointly operate the Transmed pipeline, which has a capacity of some 32 billion cubic metres per year.

Aydin Calik, an energy analyst at the Middle East Economic Survey, said Monday’s deal implied additional exports that would push the limits of the Transmed pipeline.

“That’s assuming Algeria actually has the capacity to supply more, given its other commitments,” he told AFP. “There are lots of questions.”

Former Algerian energy minister Abdelmajid Attar previously told AFP that “Algeria exports a maximum of 22 billion cubic metres (per year) via the Transmed pipeline”, leaving some 10 billion in spare capacity.

Attar, also a former CEO of Sonatrach, said that Algeria’s liquefaction facilities, which allow gas to be exported by ship, are “only being used at 50-60 percent of capacity”.

He noted that in the short term, Algeria could boost its gas exports to the EU by at most three billion cubic metres per year, meaning “it can’t make up for a fall in Russian gas supplies on its own”.

READ ALSO: Energy prices: How to save money on your bills in Italy

However, “within four of five years, Algeria could send bigger quantities” to Italy, he added.

Algeria expects to invest some $40 billion on gas and oil exploration, production and refining between 2022 and 2026.

Draghi did not say how much exports were to be boosted under Monday’s deal.

The two countries have a contract for gas deliveries up until 2027.

Draghi said last week that Italy would “follow the decisions of the European Union” on new sanctions against Russia, including a possible gas embargo.

His visit also follows a spike in tensions between Algeria and Spain, another major gas importer, after Madrid dropped a decades-long policy of neutrality over the Western Sahara and backed an autonomy plan put forward by Algeria’s arch-rival Morocco.

Sonatrach warned earlier this month it could increase the price of its gas sales to Spain, which make up more than 40 percent of the country’s imports.

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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