Home » How the League plans to undermine Italy’s drive away from Russian gas

How the League plans to undermine Italy’s drive away from Russian gas

Salvini Putin
Party sources signalled the League’s wish for a “change of pace” in the drive to decouple from Russian energy by calling for a managerial shake-up at Eni – which has been, and still is, instrumental for Italy’s strategy

State appointments are coming up. Parties weigh in on the designation of the next bosses who will helm the large state-owned companies. The League, a governing partner, has called for a top-level management course change for Italy’s two biggest energy companies, Eni and Enel.

  • “Italy must live up to the most delicate challenges, starting with energy policy, on which the government is particularly attentive,” reasoned qualified sources in Matteo Salvini’s party. “It is good to emphasise that even large State companies such as Eni and Enel must profoundly change their policies and their approach to modernity. A change of pace is needed.”

Who’s who. The League is targeting two heavyweights, Eni’s Claudio Descalzi and Enel’s Francesco Starace, who have been instrumental in Italy’s strategy of diversifying away from Russian energy. Their work began during the previous government, led by Mario Draghi, and continued under the current one, helmed by Giorgia Meloni.

  • Most notably, Mr Descalzi has accompanied – and often even anticipated – both PMs on their institutional trips to countries that became Italy’s new main energy suppliers and guarantors of energy security.
  • “With the conflict in Ukraine, everyone’s eyes were opened to the fact that in Europe, we did not have an energy security plan,” he told Repubblica on the occasion of PM Meloni’s visit to Algeria.

The expert’s take. “Italy has done an excellent job in reducing its dependence on Russian energy sources, and much of the credit goes to Eni and its excellent work in Africa,” said Douglas Hengel to our sister website Formiche.net.

  • Mr Hengel worked 35 years in United States diplomacy, with two stints in Rome (one as Deputy Chief of Mission in Italy). He was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy and coordinated the International Energy Agency’s analysis of Italian energy policy in 2022. Today he is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

A step back: the Metropol investigation. The most headline-grabbing event featuring the League, the Kremlin (with which the Italian party maintained close links) and Eni revolved around an alleged deal to illegally finance Mr Salvini’s party.

  • In 2019, investigations by L’Espresso and Buzzfeed revealed how Mr Salvini’s former spokesman, Gianluca Savoini, had attended a meeting in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel with three Russian individuals to allegedly negotiate illegal funding for the League.
  • Their supposed plan involved Russian oil company Rosneft selling about 3 million tonnes of fuel to Eni. That sale would have been filtered through several intermediaries, who would have applied discounts, thus creating a slush fund of around €58 million that would have ended up in the League’s coffers.

A dead end? The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Milan, in charge of the investigation, has recently asked to archive the case, citing the lack of evidence regarding how the oil transaction discussed at the Metropol could have concretely financed the League.

  • Mr Salvini, who was deputy PM and interior minister at the time, had denied any involvement. So did Eni, who stated the alleged negotiation had never been initiated.

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