Italy ‘deeply committed’ to stronger ties with Saudi Arabia, Gulf region, Deputy PM Antonio Tajani tells Arab News

Special Italy ‘deeply committed’ to stronger ties with Saudi Arabia, Gulf region, Deputy PM Antonio Tajani tells Arab News
Antonio Tajani, main, was elected leader of Forza Italia in July this year. Forza Italia is the junior partner among the three main parties in Giorgia Meloni’s government, behind the prime minister’s own Brothers of Italy and Matteo Salvini’s League. (ANSA photo)
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Updated 05 October 2023
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Italy ‘deeply committed’ to stronger ties with Saudi Arabia, Gulf region, Deputy PM Antonio Tajani tells Arab News

Italy ‘deeply committed’ to stronger ties with Saudi Arabia, Gulf region, Deputy PM Antonio Tajani tells Arab News
  • Tajani describes Saudi Arabia as “a key player” in a geostrategically and economically significant region
  • Lauds Kingdom’s green transition and envisions Gulf region as renewable energy powerhouse for Europe

ROME: Italy is “deeply committed” to strengthening its relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, according to Antonio Tajani, the country’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation.

In an interview with Arab News on the eve of his visit to Saudi Arabia, Tajani offered an expansive and promising perspective of both current and future relations between Italy and the Kingdom.

“The significance of this (Gulf) region on the global stage, in geostrategic and economic terms, can hardly be overstated,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia is a key player, and my visit to Riyadh is meant to reaffirm the strong ties that bind our two countries.”




A delegation of Saudi entrepreneurs and investors, led by Kamel Al-Munajjed, thepresident of the Saudi-Italian Business Council, met in Rome on Thursday with the Italian Minister for Economic Development Adolfo Urso in May 2023. (Supplied)

He was referring to a relationship that has blossomed in recent years not only in the economic and commercial sectors but also at the geopolitical and cultural levels.

Ties between the two countries were first established in February 1932, which were cemented after the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by a trade treaty signed on Sept. 22 the same year.

“Our objective is to strengthen our relationship even further,” Tajani said. “Italy’s approach is based on dialogue and consensus building across the board, with no hidden agenda. We can therefore play a role in fostering strategic partnership based on mutual understanding and capable of producing positive outcomes to the benefit of the countries involved, in the interest of international stability.”

According to data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity, Italy exported over $4 billion in goods to Saudi Arabia, mainly machine parts and medicaments, in 2021. The same year, Saudi exports to Italy — primarily crude and refined petroleum — reached $5.86 billion. In 2022, the volume of trade between Italy and Saudi Arabia reached 11.5 billion euros ($12.04 billion).




A delegation of Saudi entrepreneurs and investors, led by Kamel Al-Munajjed, thepresident of the Saudi-Italian Business Council, met in Rome on Thursday with the Italian Minister for Economic Development Adolfo Urso in May 2023. (Supplied)

Italy and Saudi Arabia are also seeking to diversify their trade ties, particularly as both the Kingdom and the EU are moving away from fossil fuels as part of a transition to “green energy” and economic diversification.

Tajani described the Arab Gulf region as a potential renewable energy powerhouse of strategic importance for both Italy and Europe, maintaining over time its relevance as a key supplier in this domain.

In this regard, he pointed out that the EU plans to import clean electricity and hydrogen under the REPowerEU plan, which aims to end the bloc’s reliance on Russia’s gas supplies by 2030.

“We commend the great efforts undertaken (by the Gulf countries), particularly by Saudi Arabia, in the green transition by investing in solar and wind power and in refocusing fossil fuels for hydrogen production,” Tajani said.

“I am sure that this strategy will guarantee you amazing returns in the long run.” 




The capacity of the world’s largest single-contracted PV solar plant, to be located in Sudair Industrial City in Saudi Arabia’s north, will be 1,500MW. (Supplied)

Elaborating on the issue, he said: “For example, the green hydrogen produced at NEOM (smart city in Saudi Arabia) can indeed feed the European market by transiting through the Italian network.

“In addition, Italy is already acting as a supplier of knowledge and technology for the Kingdom’s journey towards net zero, as many Italian companies are engaged in a number of energy projects with Saudi energy stakeholders, starting from Saudi Aramco and ACWA Power.”

On Sept. 4, ACWA Power signed deals with six Italian companies, including energy firm Eni, additives manufacturer Italmatch Chemicals, industrial solutions provider Industrie De Nora and waste management firm A2A. The agreements, finalized at the Saudi-Italian Investment Forum in Milan, cemented collaboration in the fields of green hydrogen, water desalination, and research into sustainable technologies.

The forum saw 21 cooperation agreements concluded in various sectors, from clean energy and healthcare to real estate and waste management. More than 1,000 companies attended the forum, which was a follow-up to the previous forum held in Riyadh last year.

“(Italy) is only in the top 20 as an investor in the Kingdom, and the value of our bilateral non-oil trade amounts to a mere $1.4 billion — which means we are far from reaching the full potential of our partnership,” Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih stated at this year’s forum.




Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih addressing the Saudi-Italian Investment Forum in Milan, Italy, on Sept. 4, 2023. (Supplied)

Tajani said the Saudi-Italian Investment Forum was successful partly because “many Italian companies got to know the tangible opportunities available under Saudi Vision 2030, both in terms of upcoming tenders in the framework of megaprojects and giga-projects, and in terms of incentives for direct industrial investments.”

With more than 150 Italian companies currently holding foreign investment licenses in Saudi Arabia, there could be far greater economic cooperation on the horizon for the two countries.

Tajani said Italy can contribute to the megaprojects and giga-projects “because of its universally recognized know-how and expertise in sectors on which the Saudi authorities are focusing such as new mobility, new urban and architectural design, new residential areas and new touristic resorts.”




Saudi Culture Minister Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Farhan, right, and his Italian counterpart Gennaro Sangiuliano at a ceremony in Venice in May 19, 2023, during which they signed a memorandum of understanding to foster cooperation in the sectors of archaeology, conservation, restoration and protection of cultural heritage, film and literature. (X: @mocsaudi_en)

For good measure, he said: “We could collaborate with the Kingdom in getting the most from the nexus between tourism and historical heritage. We are already cooperating for the development of the AlUla and Diriyah UNESCO sites as well as Dumat Al-Jandal, where Italy has an important archeological mission for the last two decades.”

The Italian conservation institute Centro Conservazione e Restauro “La Venaria Reale” partnered with the Royal Commission for AlUla this year, which will see 12 Saudi professionals participating in workshops in northern Italy’s Turin and the Kingdom’s cultural heritage site at AlUla.

Last year, Italy was among the top five countries of origin for tourists to Saudi Arabia. The first half of 2022 witnessed around 1,500 Italians travel to the Kingdom.

Rome hosted the Saudi Village in late September this year, giving Italians a chance, in their own capital, to experience the Kingdom’s culture, heritage, cuisine and tourist attractions. Organized by the Saudi Embassy in Italy, the event was held in Villa Borghese, the historical park in the heart of Italy’s capital, with attractions for adults and children.

Several Italian and Saudi Arabia companies were represented at the event, as well as representatives from the Kingdom’s ministries of investment, sports, and education, Saudi Tourism Authority and Royal Commission for AlUla.




Italians got a glimpse of Saudi culture, heritage, cuisine and tourist attractions during the Saudi Village event in Rome late last month. Organized by the Saudi Embassy in Italy, the event was held at Casina Valadier in Villa Borghese, the historical park in the heart of Italy’s capital. (X: @KSAembassyIT)

Italy is seeking Gulf and Saudi Arabia investments in the “Made in Italy” strategic fund, meant to boost critical supply chains. Referring to the fund, Tajani said it would be “a safe and profitable investment for Gulf sovereign funds, such as the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), considering also that it is in line with their long-term strategies.”

He added: “The fund will be soon in place, after the approval of the parliament, which is underway, and will become a key instrument of Italian industrial policy. Through direct or indirect private equity investments, the fund will boost key Italian companies with considerable growth and of strategic importance for the overall economy.”

Tajani also said that Italy has launched a series of travelling exhibitions to showcase its manufacturing and creative industries abroad, highlighting their links with the local territory and know-how.

“‘Made in Italy’ is not only the so-called three Fs, namely fashion, food, furniture. In fact, Italy is the second-largest manufacturing country in Europe, a leader in high-value-added sectors, such as mechanics, electronics and pharmaceutical,” Tajani said.

“It is the combination of tradition and innovation that makes Italy capable of producing products that are increasingly appreciated in international markets. Against this backdrop, we would like to expand our economic and commercial partnership with countries like Saudi Arabia, which appreciate the value of Italian know-how, craftsmanship and beauty.”

He cited Ferrari and Maserati as examples of two “very well known ‘Made in Italy’ brands chosen all over the world not for their quality, design and functionality but also for the rich and diversified cultural heritage they embody.”

While Italy is searching for strategic investment from Saudi Arabia, it is also looking beyond the Gulf for partners in economic cooperation, although there are challenges and rewards to being part of international economic blocs.

Italy has recently questioned its continuing role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, while agreeing to join the planned India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, or IMEC, in mid-September.

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“During my recent trip to Beijing, I confirmed Italy’s interest to develop even further our cooperation on many fronts. At the same time, I told my Chinese counterparts that Italy did not benefit from being part of the Belt and Road Initiative,” he said.

Tajani’s view is that there are other bilateral frameworks that could help develop and strengthen Italy’s relationship with China.

Looking to the future, he said: “Our government is willing to create stronger ties with key partners in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, and India. Our decision to be part of the IMEC goes exactly in this direction.”

Italy is also seeking partners in the struggle against irregular migration, according to Tajani. “In July, we convened in Rome the International Conference on Development and Migration with key partners from Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Gulf,” he said.


READ MORE: How Saudi-backed India-Middle East corridor is ‘game changer’ for New Delhi


“On that occasion, we launched the Rome Process to establish an inclusive and comprehensive dialogue to put in place wide-ranging cooperation to address the root causes of mass migration, fight against human trafficking and illegal immigration, govern legal migration flows, and support refugees and displaced persons.”

 Tajani praised the participation of Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, for his participation in the summit. “We are grateful for your country’s valuable contribution to its success. Italy and Saudi Arabia share the same view on fighting against human trafficking and criminal networks active in this field,” Tajani said.

Nearly one year has elapsed since the formation of a new government, which has been marked by the rekindling of international diplomatic relations and the rebuilding of bonds with the Arab world. Tajani called the progress made under the current government “remarkable.”

“Our main objective was to strengthen our partnership with Washington, make our voice more relevant in the EU arena, and infuse new energies in our relationship with key players in the Mediterranean, the Gulf, and Africa,” he said.




Italy's PM Giorgia Meloni and Libya's Tripoli-based PM Abdulhamid Dbeibah hold a joint press conference in Tripoli on Jan. 28, 2023. (AFP/File)

The government has made strong efforts toward improving and widening its ties with Arab countries. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. Meloni also visited Libya’s capital Tripoli in January this year, and recently spoke to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the phone.

“Building upon the work we have done, we will keep creating new partnerships aimed at forging those alliances that are necessary to tackle the challenges of our times,” Tajani said.

Given Italy’s record of frequent government changes, did Tajani think the intense diplomatic activity will outlive the current government?

“I am confident that this government will arrive at the end of its five-year mandate. The majority in the parliament is strong and the Italian people trust us.”

 


Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi

Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi
Updated 15 sec ago
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Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi

Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi
  • Macron had also reiterated to Netanyahu that France wanted an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron held phone calls on Monday with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to discuss ways of avoiding an escalation in the Middle East crisis, said France and Egypt.
The French presidency said Macron, in his call with Netanyahu, had reaffirmed Paris’s desire to avoid an escalation in the Middle East and to stand up to what it said were Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region.
The French presidency added that Macron had also reiterated to Netanyahu that France wanted an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza and said Paris was working to ease tensions arising from clashes on the border between Israel and Lebanon.
In a separate statement, Egyptian presidential spokesperson Ahmed Fahmy said Macron had also discussed the Middle East crisis with the Egyptian leader and that both Macron and El-Sisi had agreed on the need to avoid further regional escalation.


India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires

India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires
Updated 22 April 2024
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India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires

India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires
  • Kohli fell early in Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s chase after he was caught by Kolkata Knight Riders Harshit Rana
  • Visuals on social media showed Kohli having discussion with umpire after the match as pundits weighed in on dismissal

NEW DELHI: India star Virat Kohli has been fined half his match fee for an angry outburst in response to his dismissal from an Indian Premier League match, the league said Monday.

Kohli fell early in Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s chase on Sunday after he was caught and bowled by Kolkata Knight Riders pace bowler Harshit Rana and his team went on to lose by one run at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.

But the former India captain looked confident the high full-toss was above his waist as the umpires checked for a no-ball.

TV umpire Michael Gough declared it out after technology suggested the trajectory of the ball dipped below the waist of the batsman, who returned furious after exchanging words with the on-field officials.

“Kohli committed a Level 1 offense under Article 2.8 of the IPL’s Code of Conduct,” an IPL statement said.

“He admitted to the offense and accepted the Match Referee’s sanction.”

Visuals on social media showed Kohli having a long discussion with an umpire after the match ended and pundits weighed in on the dismissal.

Former India batsman Navjot Singh Sidhu slammed the call and asked for the “rules to be changed“

Ex-India quick Irfan Pathan said on X, formerly Twitter, “if Virat Kohli was standing at the popping crease the ball would have been lower than his measured waist height, making it a legal delivery.”

Kohli has been the top run-getter in the T20 tournament so far with 379 runs in eight matches but his team Bengaluru remains bottom of the 10-team table with just one win.


Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea

Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea
Updated 22 April 2024
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Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea

Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea
  • More than 16,000 Filipino, American soldiers are involved in the annual exercises this year
  • Beijing, Philippines have overlapping claims in the resource-rich South China Sea

MANILA: Filipino and US forces began their annual joint military drills on Monday, segments of which will, for the first time, take place outside of the Philippines’ territorial waters following a string of maritime clashes between Manila and Beijing in the disputed South China Sea.

The exercises, known as Balikatan — Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder — will run up until May 10 and involve over 16,000 military personnel, along with more than 250 Australian and French forces.

For the first time since the annual drills started over 30 years ago, the Philippines and the US will conduct joint naval drills beyond the 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) of the Philippines’ territorial waters, in parts of the open sea claimed by China.

“This exercise represents the essence of unity, collective responsibility, and enduring partnership between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America and other partners,” Philippines’ military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said during the opening ceremony.

“It is not a partnership of convenience but rather a clear reflection of our shared history, unwavering commitment to democracy and respect for international law in our pursuit of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Throughout the three-week exercise, soldiers from the two militaries will operate out of a joint command center to perform four major activities with a focus on countering maritime, air, land, and cyber attacks.

“It’s the first time that we are going beyond our (12) nautical miles,” Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine, Philippines exercise director, told reporters.

The Balikatan training operations are not directed at a particular country, he said, but are more focused on the “development of interoperability,” with an increased complexity of the drills and scenarios to let soldiers learn more from one another.

The joint exercises take place as Philippine and Chinese coast guard and other vessels have featured in a series of increasingly tense territorial face-offs since last year, including Chinese use of water cannons against a Philippine vessel in the South China Sea last month, causing damage and injuries.

After the incident, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said his government would take countermeasures against “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks” by the Chinese Coast Guard.

“We seek no conflict with any nation, more so nations that purport and claim to be our friends but we will not be cowed into silence, submission, or subservience,” Marcos had said in a statement.

The Philippines and China, along with several other countries, have overlapping claims in the resource-rich waterway, where a bulk of the world’s commerce and oil transits.

Beijing has been increasing its military activity over the past few years, with the Chinese Coast Guard regularly encroaching on the Philippine part of the waters, the West Philippine Sea, despite a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague dismissing China’s expansive claims.

Don McLain Gill, an international studies lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila, said the scope of this year’s Balikatan is a “clear reflection of Manila’s commitment to exercise its sovereignty and sovereign rights within its exclusive economic zone.

“This year ’s exercise will also involve complex maritime security issues such as simulations of recovering islands from hostile forces, which add a practical dimension to collective self defense efforts by the like-minded partners,” he told Arab News.

“Clearly, securing the WPS based on international law will not bode well for China’s expansionist interests. While the Balikatan is aimed at improving joint preparedness amidst emerging challenges in the region, the challenge posed by China's expansionism is clearly one of the critical factors that provoke regional security.”


Suspected extremists abducted over 110 civilians in Mali: sources

Suspected extremists abducted over 110 civilians in Mali: sources
Updated 22 April 2024
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Suspected extremists abducted over 110 civilians in Mali: sources

Suspected extremists abducted over 110 civilians in Mali: sources

DAKAR: Suspected extremists in central Mali are holding more than 110 civilians whom they abducted six days ago, local sources told AFP on Monday.
Three buses carrying the civilians were stopped on April 16 by “jihadists,” who forced the vehicles and the passengers to head toward a forest between Bandiagara and Bankass, a local group of associations and an elected official said.’

“We demand the release of more than 110 passengers of three buses abducted on Tuesday by jihadists,” a member of the group, Oumar Ongoiba, told AFP.

An elected official from Bandiagara, who wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons, said, “The three buses and the passengers, more than 120, are still being held by jihadists.”

Mali has since 2012 been ravaged by different factions affiliated to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group, as well as by self-declared, self-defense forces and bandits.

The worsening security situation has been compounded by a humanitarian and political crisis.

The violence spilled over into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, with all three countries seeing military regimes seize power.


With homelessness on the rise, US Supreme Court will weigh bans on sleeping outdoors

With homelessness on the rise, US Supreme Court will weigh bans on sleeping outdoors
Updated 22 April 2024
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With homelessness on the rise, US Supreme Court will weigh bans on sleeping outdoors

With homelessness on the rise, US Supreme Court will weigh bans on sleeping outdoors

WASHINGTON: The Supreme Court will consider Monday whether banning homeless people from sleeping outside when shelter space is lacking amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
The case is considered the most significant to come before the high court in decades on homelessness, which is reaching record levels in the United States.
In California and other Western states, courts have ruled that it’s unconstitutional to fine and arrest people sleeping in homeless encampments if shelter space is lacking.
A cross-section of Democratic and Republican officials contend that makes it difficult for them to manage encampments, which can have dangerous and unsanitary living conditions.
But hundreds of advocacy groups argue that allowing cities to punish people who need a place to sleep will criminalize homelessness and ultimately make the crisis worse.
The Justice Department has also weighed in. It argues people shouldn’t be punished just for sleeping outside, but only if there’s a determination they truly have nowhere else to go.
The case comes from the rural Oregon town of Grants Pass, which started fining people $295 for sleeping outside to manage homeless encampments that sprung up in the city’s public parks as the cost of housing escalated.
The measure was largely struck down by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also found in 2018 that such bans violated the 8th Amendment by punishing people for something they don’t have control over.
The case comes after homelessness in the United States grew a dramatic 12 percent, to its highest reported level as soaring rents and a decline in coronavirus pandemic assistance combined to put housing out of reach for more Americans, according to federal data.