ALGIERS, Algeria -- With his government's fate in limbo, Italian Premier Mario Draghi was visiting Algeria’s capital Monday to finalize deals boosting Algerian gas supplies to Italy as Europeans brace for a possible cutoff of Russian gas.
In a sign of the importance of the visit, the Italian delegation includes the foreign minister, interior minister, justice minister, ecological transition and family ministers. They were set to hold a day of talks, meet with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and sign joint agreements.
Algeria is displacing Russia this year as the main supplier of gas to Italy. A major agreement was reached during a trip by Draghi to Algeria in April between Algerian energy giant Sonatrach and Italian company ENI to increase gas exports. A pipeline running through Tunisia and under the Mediterranean to Sicily is a key conduit in this strategy.
EU countries have scrambled to diversify energy sources after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
“Algeria contributes in a determining way to the action of the Italian government to diversify its sources of provisions, having become the top supplier of gas to Italy in these months,” Draghi’s office said in a statement stressing the importance of the visit.
Draghi had planned to come for two days, but cut the trip to only Monday with his government's fate in the balance after the defection last week of a key coalition member on an energy costs relief bill. The populist 5-Star Movement's defiance could end Draghi's 17-month-old pandemic unity government this week, if the premier deems there is no way for his coalition to effectively function.
Amid concerns that payments for Russian gas and oil are funding President Vladimir Putin’s war, Europe is trying to cut its reliance on Russian natural gas imports and prepare for a potential Russian cutoff in reprisal for EU sanctions.
Prior to the war, Russia provided Italy about 29 billion cubic meters of gas per year, compared with about 23 billion from Algeria. Already this year Algeria has delivered 13.9 billion cubic meters to Italy via the Trans-Mediterranean pipeline, a 113% rise over forecasts, according to Algerian energy giant Sonatrach. Algeria on Friday announced a 4 billion cubic-meter increase in planned supplies for the months ahead.
Italy is especially dependent on natural gas to generate electricity, heat and cool homes, and power its industry. Italy has also been reaching out to other energy-producing nations to secure alternate sources, including Azerbaijan, Qatar, Congo, Angola and Mozambique.
But Italy is also trying to diversify the kinds of energy, especially counting more on renewable sources, a priority reflected in Monday's meetings in Algeria.
Draghi's office said Algerian-Italian energy cooperation will also focus on renewables, including solar, wind and geothermal energy.
While energy worries have eclipsed the long-resolved tensions in Europe over migrants coming across the Mediterranean to southern European shores, the summit in Algeria will also grapple with migration issues.
The numbers of migrants disembarking on Italy’s shores form Algeria dipped by 46% this year compared with the same time last year, according to the Italian government.