Meloni’s upcoming India visit and the future of the EU-India partnership

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is scheduled to land in New Delhi to inaugurate the Raisina Dialogues on the 2nd of March as the chief guest with Prime Minister Modi. She will also hold bilateral meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during her visit. The last visit of an Italian Prime Minister to India was that of Paolo Gentiloni in 2017 and Prime Minister Modi visited Italy for G20 in October 2021. She is Italy’s first female Prime Minister in its history and at 45, the second youngest.

Meloni’s visit to India is significant, it continues Prime Minister Draghi’s efforts to bring the two democracies together and create in India a significant alternative to China, as a market as well as a friendshoring destination. During Draghi’s term Italy started seriously recognizing the dangers that China posed for its democracy, economy and technology and started taking concrete steps to counter China’s aggression. Draghi also put into place a concrete foreign policy in Rome, which his predecessors had largely ignored. 

Meloni instead has started her term with a clear objective of building on Draghi’s efforts and bringing back Italy’s status as one of Europe’s leaders; her India visit is a part of her global strategy to make Italy count as a global player. 

In her first 100 days, apart from ensuring energy independence from Russia, formalizing and consolidating Italy’s role in NATO and its transatlantic alliance she has also put into place her “Mattei plan” for Africa. The plan aims to make Italy Europe’s energy hub, its supplier of gas from North Africa, creating a strategic alternative to Russia for gas by sourcing it from Azerbaijan, Algeria and eventually Libya and Israel. If Meloni’s plan bears fruit, Italy will be able to receive between 50-70 billion Cubic meters of gas by 2025, not only weaning it off Russian gas completely but also giving it a significant surplus to supply neighboring countries such as Austria. Most importantly it wrests EU energy leadership from Germany which has been a key player in the supply of Russian gas to all EU countries given it controls the pipelines from Russia.

Most importantly however is the competition between the three European powers, France, Germany and Italy for leadership in the European Union. So far the EU has been dominated by the Franco-German axis. French President Emmanuel Macron, who is from a very diverse political party than the Italian Prime Minister, would like to see her fail. Not only did Meloni’s Prime Ministership start with a spat with Macron on the issue of migrants, he also excluded her from a hastily organized dinner for Ukrainian President Zelensky at the Elysee Palace for which the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was invited. 

However Meloni has risen above these petty snubs, reminding Macron that such politics divide Europe and don’t unite it. In a geopolitical scenario where the world is polarized in between democracies and autocracies and China looks to be siding with Russia, the timing of Meloni’s visit to India could not have been more opportune.

The visit will lay the basis for two countries which share an ancient relationship and have no colonial animosity to develop a bilateral partnership which is mutually beneficial. Both countries have vast coasts, and Italy has strong marine and defense technology. Meloni herself and her party Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) is a strong supporter of Taiwan. Both India and Italy have strong business links with China and need to balance checking China with their own economic interests. Despite India sharing a contentious 3400 km border with China, both countries, despite their skirmishes and conflicts, manage to balance trade relations. Meloni will look for such a balanced relationship with India, also comfortable in being able to lean on a large country where Italian companies can outsource manufacturing (“friendsourcing”) and work together on supply chain resilience. 

Both countries have a strong dependance on family owned enterprises, SMEs and agriculture. While the stalled EU-India Free Trade Agreement does not allow Italy and India to sign a bilateral agreement on the topic, India is an open market for Italian agrofood processing companies to set up production, sell technology for the domestic market. By 2030 500 million Indian’s will be between the ages of 15-35, making India a large market for fashion, textiles, accessories and makeup, which Italy excels in. India is also undergoing an unprecedented infrastructure expansion where ports, highways, airports and railways are being modernized, all areas where Italian companies are technology leaders and trailblazers. 

While India shares a strong relationship with France and Modi with Macron, it will do well to look at Italy as its European champion in a “post-Macron” world. Meloni and Italy may well be that alternative ally for India given Italy’s increasing leadership in Europe. 

Finally, India isn’t a stranger to female leaders, it welcomes them. Giorgia Meloni brings a woman’s touch to a country which has been dominated by male leaders who have been unable to solve its basic problems or restore its rightful place in the global geopolitical scenario. The Meloni-Modi partnership may hold the key to the future of the EU-India partnership in security, the Indo-Pacific, supply chain resilience as well as peace. While India takes its place with the global powers, Meloni’s Italy will be the partner that makes the difference.