Italian Prime Minister Draghi visits Algeria for gas talks

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — With the fate of his government in limbo, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi was heading to the Algerian capital on Monday to finalize deals boosting the supply of Algerian gas to Italy as Europeans are preparing for a possible Russian gas cut.

A sign of the importance of the visit, the Italian delegation includes the ministers of foreign affairs, the interior, justice, ecological transition and the family. They were to hold a day of talks, meet Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and sign joint agreements.

Algeria is replacing Russia as Italy’s main gas supplier this year. A major deal was struck during a trip by Draghi to Algeria in April between Algerian energy giant Sonatrach and Italy’s ENI to boost gas exports. A pipeline through Tunisia and under the Mediterranean to Sicily is a key conduit in this strategy.

EU countries rushed to diversify their energy sources after Russia invaded Ukraine.

“Algeria is a key contributor to the Italian government‘s action to diversify its sources of supply, having become Italy’s leading gas supplier in recent months,” Draghi’s office said in a statement highlighting the issue. significance of the visit.

Draghi had planned to come for two days, but cut the trip to just Monday with the fate of his government hanging in the balance after the defection last week of a key coalition member over a government relief bill. energy costs. The 5-Star Populist Movement challenge could end Draghi’s 17-month-old pandemic unity government this week if the prime minister feels there is no way for his coalition to function effectively.

Amid fears that payments for Russian gas and oil could fund President Vladimir Putin’s war, Europe is trying to reduce its dependence on Russian natural gas imports and prepare for a possible Russian cut in retaliation for EU sanctions.

Before the war, Russia supplied Italy with around 29 billion cubic meters of gas per year, compared with around 23 billion for Algeria. Already this year, Algeria has delivered 13.9 billion cubic meters to Italy via the trans-Mediterranean gas pipeline, a 113% increase over forecasts, according to Algerian energy giant Sonatrach. Algeria announced on Friday an increase of 4 billion cubic meters in supplies planned for the coming months.

Italy is particularly dependent on natural gas to generate electricity, heat and cool homes and power its industry. Italy has also reached out to other energy-producing countries for alternative sources, including Azerbaijan, Qatar, Congo, Angola and Mozambique.

But Italy is also trying to diversify the types of energy, notably by betting 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 renewable energy, including solar, wind and geothermal energy.

While energy concerns have overshadowed long-resolved tensions in Europe over migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe’s southern shores, the summit in Algeria will also address migration issues.

The number of migrants landing on Italian shores from Algeria has fallen by 46% this year compared to the same period last year, according to the Italian government.

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