ALGIERS, Algeria — Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni is looking to boost already strong energy ties with Algeria to further wean Italy off Russian energy, a focus of her two-day visit to the North African nation starting on Sunday.
Russia's war in Ukraine, which upset global strategic and economic dynamics, gave a new and urgent dimension to ties between Algiers and Rome, long dependent on Russian energy. Other European Union nations also have scrambled to find sources of replacement for Russian energy.
Italy and gas-rich Algeria now want to build on then Premier Mario Draghi's successful initiatives last year to boost Algerian energy supplies to Italy and, an Algerian diplomat said, "push beyond that."
"We want Italy to become a European hub for Algerian gas. A junction for other EU countries," Algeria's ambassador to Rome, Abdelkrim Touahria, said in an interview with Rome daily Il Messaggero, published on Saturday.
Algeria has replaced Russia as Italy's No. 1 energy supplier, sending natural gas via the Trans-Mediterranean pipeline.
An initial deal last year concluded by Draghi added 9 billion cubic meters of gas by 2023-2024, Eni said at the time. Months later, in July, a $4 billion agreement between the companies Eni, the Italian energy company, Occidental and Total was concluded.
Meloni is expected to meet with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune as well as the nation's prime minister. Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi is to be among those in the delegation.
"Today we are the leading energy partner of Italy," Touahria said. "But we aim to push beyond that."
Touahria, the Algerian ambassador, said that Italy's Eni and the Algerian oil company Sonatrach are also looking together to the future with projects like oil and gas exploration in the south Sahara.
Besides energy, a raft of topics also will be discussed during Meloni's visit, from naval construction to cars and startups.
Meloni's far-right-led coalition won a September national election, and it was likely that immigration and migrant issues, dear to the European far-right, would be on the agenda.
Italy is a magnet for migrants escaping poverty, war and other woes in their home countries, and North Africans, often from Tunisia and Algeria, are among them.
Algeria's ambassador to Italy met this week with Italy's interior minister before Meloni's visit. Italian consular officials in Rome regularly try to identify illegal migrants thought to be Algerian held in Sardinia and southern Italy, the official Algerian news agency APS quoted Touahria as saying.
Meloni and Tebboune met in November on the sidelines of a climate conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, the Egyptian resort town.