Rome and Abu Dhabi reconfirm their strategic commitment

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani's recent visit to the UAE confirms how the Rome-Abu Dhabi dialogue is strategic on several key issues for Italy's economic, foreign, and security policy

In early March, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, accompanied by Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Tajani, completed a two-day official mission to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and signed a Declaration of Intents on promoting Italy-UAE relations to the level of strategic partnership. After over three months, Tajani visited the UAE again, to meet his counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed and confirm both countries’ commitment to strengthen bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest and, above all, political dialogue. Since its appointment, the Italian Government has progressively shortened distances from Abu Dhabi. Noteworthy, even before trade economics, this gradual rapprochement – significantly supported by a vast array of Italian public and private actors – is focused on how enhancing political-strategic dialogue with the UAE.

The underlying logic is that a new and concrete boost to bilateral relations will depend on both countries’ willingness to establish a frank dialogue based on mutual respect, as well as the two sides’ capability to pay greater attention to the concerns and strategic priorities of the other partner. From the Italian perspective, this approach is part of a wider national strategy for the Broader Mediterranean – which encompasses a more proactive engagement with the Arab Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as an important element for ensuring regional stability. Considering its central position in regional and global dynamics, the UAE is a key partner for Italy with whom Rome needs to engage and coordinate to face successfully the main crises affecting Africa, and especially the southern shore of the Mediterranean – Tunisia and Libya – the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

Italy has placed Africa back at the heart of its foreign policy agenda, highlighting several times the “special relationship[1]” it enjoys with this continent. A targeted policy on countries of transit and origin of migration flows, as well as the development of a new Euro-Mediterranean partnership within the methodological framework set by the Mattei Plan rank first among Italian national priorities. The political and economic instability of many African countries, further worsened by the effects of the war in Ukraine, is a cause of major concern for the Meloni Government, alarmed by the risk of a new uncontrolled migration wave toward Italian shores.

Migration was indeed one of the main topics discussed between Ministers of Foreign Affairs Tajani and Abdullah bin Zayed. During the meeting, Tajani not only stressed the “vital” role played by the UAE for the stability and economic growth of the area (the UAE is among the main investors in Africa) but also the two countries shared interest in a global approach to migration phenomena, through truly sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development in Africa[2]. In this context, the forthcoming international conference on Migration and Development – which will take place in Rome, with the support of the Gulf countries – will provide a further opportunity for Italy and the UAE to explore prospects for cooperation in this field.

The Italian-Emirati partnership also includes economic and commercial aspects which appear to be particularly promising, including environmental sustainability, green economy, and digital transition within the framework of COP 28; the strengthening of cooperation in both strategic and innovative sectors, such as e-commerce and fintech; new business opportunities and increase in bilateral trade. So far, over 600 Italian companies are active in the UAE, and the exchange value reached € 8 Billion in 2022. Moreover, in the same year, Italian exports to the UAE increased by 28 percent, with jewels, machinery, electrical appliances, food products, automotive and interior design as the leading sectors[3].

The series of official visits to the Gulf country over the past few months, including senior officials as well as Ministers level, and the closing of “open issues,” such as the lifting of the embargo on arms sales to the UAE (April 2023), clearly illustrate the Italian Government’s new strong commitment in strengthening its ties with the UAE. This, coupled with the dynamism of the Italian public and private sector are a key factor in understanding the success of the strategic partnership between Rome and Abu Dhabi, and their fruitful economic cooperation. In this regard, several initiatives have contributed to further increasing the potential for collaboration, investments, and convergence between two countries. These include events such as the first edition of “Investopia Europe” – held in Milan, in May 2023 –, as well as the many activities organized by the Italian Cultural Institute of Abu Dhabi (the first in the Gulf region) aimed at promoting the Italian culture across the UAE.[4]

Med-Or Foundation is at the forefront of strengthening Italy-UAE strategic dialogue, first and foremost, recognising the new centrality of the Global South – especially the UAE and the Arabian Peninsula – in setting up a new international order and jointly facing current as well as future regional and global challenges. It is in this context that Med-Or organized a seminar on “Strengthening Italy-UAE Cooperation”, in Rome on 7 June 2023. The event was intended to be a follow-up to the Med-Or Experts’ workshop under the theme: “New Horizons for Cooperation between Italy and the UAE”, held in Rome in October 2022. It featured sectorial experts and government officials from both Italy and the UAE, and provided an important platform for dialogue and exchange on Italy, the UAE, and the Arab World; prospects for cooperation in energy transition; and a common pathway forward the stabilization of areas of shared interest (e.g., North Africa and the Horn of Africa).

[1] Year-end message from the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella, December 31, 2022.

[2] John Dennehy, UAE a vital partner for Mediterranean stability, says Italian Deputy Prime Minister, The National News, June 19, 2023.

[3] Meeting of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Antonio Tajani, with the Ministry of Economy of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah Bin Touq Al Marri, Press Releases, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, May 17, 2023.

[4] Italia-Emirati Arabi, Fanara: “Nuove sinergie a partire da energia, LaPresse, June 6, 2023.


The vulnerabilities of the Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb strategic straits

From Iran’s assertiveness to tensions between actors in the Horn of Africa, via piracy and terrorism: the role of the strategic straits in the new instability of the Gulf-Red Sea quadrant.

Read the article

Cyberspace Evolution and AI The International Competition and the Regional Posture In GCC.

We are pleased to release the paper by Luigi Martino - researcher at the Center for Secure Cyber Physical Systems (C2PS) at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi - produced within the framework of the “Digital Geopolitics” project, promoted by Med-Or Foundation, in collaboration with the Center for International and Strategic Studies (CISS) of Luiss Guido Carli, thanks to the support of the Compagnia di San Paolo Foundation.

Read the news

Why Djibouti is strategic for the security of the Red Sea

From the protection of maritime trade to the stability of the Horn of Africa: the importance of Djibouti’s military facilities for Mediterranean and European security.

Read the article