Italy wrongfully thinks it can control Erdoğan

Italy Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio

Italy, led by Giuseppe Conte, is now showing new embarrassment with the Turkish armed forces stationed in Libya.

In August, the Turks took control of the port of Misrata, where they intend to establish a military base. They ousted the Italian military doctors who worked at the hospital, which had been set up years ago by the Italian military.

In mid-October, the Turks took control of the coast guard of the mostly internationally recognized Libyan government based in Tripoli, along with the 20 coastguards given to it by the Italians!

The Turks now officially control the flow of migrants from Libya to Italy.

Rome sought to boost its presence on December 4, when Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini signed a technical and military co-operation agreement with his Libyan counterpart in the Tripoli government, Salah Eddin al-Namrous.

The agreement provides for the creation of a joint Italian-Libyan military cooperation commission, while reaffirming an earlier commitment by the Italian armed forces to clear much of the country of mines. It also plans to start training military doctors immediately, while its officers under the country's unified army can be trained in Italian military academies.

According to media sources, the Italian minister did not rule out the possibility of setting up a new military hospital at Italian expense and a new free reinforcement of the Libyan coast guard, but in ports that will not be controlled by the Turks.

According to the Italian news agency Nova, the Libyan minister (considered the most closely linked to Turkey) commented that the agreement was aimed at "making Libya independent and dependent only on Ankara".

The importance of Libya for Italy

The same agency revealed that during Guerini's last visit to Tripoli in August, the climate was very cold. The Italian minister had strongly protested against the Turkish behavior in Misrata.

In response, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj called on the Italian government to send troops to replace the Turks, whose help, Sarraj added, "we pay dearly for".

The Italian minister had rejected the deployment of troops, citing constitutional and legal obstacles that prevent Italy from sending troops to foreign countries. Thus began the process of elaborating new forms of military cooperation, which culminated in an agreement in early December.

With this move, Italy shows that it is still interested in what is happening in Libya, but avoiding coming into direct confrontation with Turkey.

From what Rome's moves show, it considers Libya important both from a geopolitical point of view and because it is a base of migration flows to Europe via Italy.

The importance of the country in terms of energy seems to be considered lost forever by Italy as the number of oil wells controlled by Italian megacorporation ENI, between Tripoli and Cyrenaica, has decreased significantly.

And not only the Italian government, but also ENI itself seems convinced that the return of Libyan energy fields to Italian hands is a difficult and frightening operation.

In the East Mediterranean, ENI is interested in the Zohr deposit in Egypt and if any deposit arises in the Israeli Exclusive Economic Zone.

The disappointing Di Maio

ENI's exit from the East Mediterranean has probably been finalized.

A few months ago, Claudio de Scalzi, CEO, announced that his company would gradually turn to alternative energy sources.

In early December, ENI and the Italian state energy company ENEL announced that they had merged to install hydrogen refineries, while in Britain ENI has invested heavily in wind turbines.

Italy's attitude towards Turkey must be included in this context.

The Mediterranean Dialogue, organized for the sixth consecutive year by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the Institute for International Policy, ended on December 4. This year the meeting was online and easy to follow.

I listened to the speech of Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who is a permanent guest.

I also listened to the intervention of Nikos Dendias, but mainly I listened very carefully to the intervention of their Italian counterpart, Luigi Di Maio.

My hope was to enlighten us about Italian politics in the Eastern Mediterranean. In vain though...

Italy Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

Di Maio's intervention was one of those texts that bad diplomats are usually proud of.

In many words, he had managed to say absolutely nothing: wish lists, clichés, dialogue, peace and economic cooperation "between the two shores of the Mediterranean".

They do not feel threatened

Discussions of the East Mediterranean was present, but in the form of EU energy policy, as one of the many energy theaters that are considered and studied by Italian leaders, but in difficult times keep their distance.

And of course, it was mentioned that in this theater Turkey "quarrels" with Greece and Cyprus over energy. And that was it. Neither the Aegean, nor UN Charter Law of the Sea, nor Exclusive Economic Zones were mentioned.

In conclusion, Italy is not fully aware of the extent and depth of the crisis that Ankara has caused in the East Mediterranean. They are unaware of Ankara's persistent claims before Erdogan's ouster and see Turkey as a regional player they can manage.

Italy does not feel threatened by Erdoğan's moves and remain convinced that he will not use the military against Greece or Cyprus.

So they are waiting for a diplomatic solution to be found and the problem to be overcome.

In the meantime, they are inextricably aligned with the great powers of the West, which are now identified with Berlin, after President Trump had decided that Washington was absent.

The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Greek City Times.

Dimitris Deliolanis has been ERT's correspondent in Rome for 35 years. He has written articles in Il Manifesto and Il Foglio, and is the author of "Life and State of Silvio Berlusconi". He is a regular contributor to SLPress.

Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor