Skip to content
Italian Meloni considers a geopolitical gamble from the Queen – POLITICO


Press play to listen to this article

Voiced by artificial intelligence.

Elizabeth Braw is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and an advisor to Gallos Technologies and a regular columnist for POLITICO.

In the 17th century, Italian chess player Gioachino Greco created the world’s first chess manual. One of the moves he recorded was the Queen’s Gambit, an ingenious three-part opening.

Almost exactly 300 years later, his compatriot, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, is about to launch her own bet: on foreign policy. And just like Greco’s decision, it involves several interrelated steps that, if executed successfully, could pay big dividends.

When Greco began his pioneering manuscript detailing entire chess games, he was already considered one of the best players in the world. By contrast, Meloni was little known outside Italy before leading her party to victory in last year’s parliamentary elections.

The world didn’t really know what to expect, especially when it came to foreign policy. Since then, however, Meloni has been sure-footed on issues ranging from Ukraine to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. And when heads of state and government gather this week to address the world’s most pressing challenges at the United Nations General Assembly, the Italian Prime Minister will outline her Queen’s Bet.

Meloni’s decision involves several interconnected steps that address national security risks posed by climate change, strengthening the Euro-Atlantic alliance and helping African countries become more stable and secure. “Meloni has spoken a lot recently about the need to look at the entire global chessboard without losing sight of any area or piece,” his foreign policy adviser, Ambassador Francesco Taló, told me.

“For example, by moving the queen to the East, we risk not noticing the bishop coming from Africa,” he added.

It could be argued that the pressing issues we face today are so intertwined that every head of government must develop a Queen’s Wager. “In the current situation you cannot have vertical political lines,” stressed Taló, former Italian ambassador to NATO. “So many things are interconnected.”

But the need for such a strategy is particularly evident in Italy, which sits at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Middle East and is a key player in the globalized economy – as well as a also crucial in the defense of the West against Russia. and its support for Ukraine. Add to this the serious disruptions that await every country as artificial intelligence and climate change inexorably advance.

These real-world challenges are clearly not as simple as a chessboard, and foreign policy decisions must be executed simultaneously rather than sequentially – but the complexity of the strategy is the same.

Take climate change: to protect its impressive number of UNESCO World Heritage sites – not to mention its famous winemaking and agriculture – Italy needs carbon reductions not just at home but around the world. Of course, much more than Italy’s beautiful sights and food is at stake here: Without a significant reduction in carbon emissions, parts of Africa risk becoming uninhabitable, forcing even more people to relocate. travel to Europe via Italy.

In the first half of this year, more than 73,000 migrants by boat reached the country, more than double the number recorded for all of 2021. And if the world passes the crucial milestone of average temperature increase by 1.5 degrees, the number of those who will have to flee their homes will increase. be several times that.

More than 73,000 migrants by boat reached Italian shores in the first half of 2023 | Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Last week, thousands of Libyans died and thousands more were left homeless when Storm Daniel hit the country and collapsed two dams. Meloni held phone calls with Libya’s two rival prime ministers, one after the other, the day after the disaster, and pledged to help the country.

COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Summit, to be held in Dubai next December, will face the complex task of tackling climate change even as the global economy deteriorates. But ultimately, the West must reduce its carbon emissions – and so does China. And to achieve results, both sides must work closely together, even as geopolitical tensions rise.

But those aren’t the only questions the Queen’s Gambit must resolve.

Like many other countries, Italy must cut its trade ties with Russia and also reduce its dependence on China. Meloni has already decided that Italy will leave China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the country has managed to more than halve its imports of Russian gas. The new electrical connector being built between Tunisia and Sicily represents the flip side of this strategy: a new direction towards broader, multi-layered collaboration with Italy’s neighboring countries.

This EU-funded connector will create jobs in Tunisia, help Italy reduce its dependence on Russian gas, and any surplus will go to Europe. Meanwhile, Meloni – joined by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte – also negotiated a migration deal with Tunisia, which was signed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in July.

The Italian prime minister is actually trying to create the type of mutually beneficial relationship that has so often eluded European and African countries. It’s clear they would benefit from collaboration on climate change and better trade ties – and Meloni thinks Italy can also help make Ukraine’s case to some African leaders who might be best placed to propose ways out of the war.

“Italy is trying to dialogue not only with Ukraine’s traditional supporters, but also with other countries willing to offer solutions,” Taló said. “After all, any country can be attacked by its neighbor, that’s why every country should be able to understand Ukraine’s situation.”

In the Italian Parliament, Meloni herself significantly dissuaded lawmakers who suggested that supporting Ukraine was futile. It’s a far cry from March 2020, when COVID-stricken Italy asked its EU friends for help but received slow responses. Instead, the country had to turn to Russia and China, who flaunted their rather limited aid.

Greco helped the Queen’s Gambit become one of the favorite opening moves in chess, still used by grandmasters today. This isn’t always successful, but it’s always worth a try because the rewards are great. There is also no guarantee that a gamble from the Queen will work on the foreign policy stage – but with so many pressing crises and challenges at once, trying to resolve them one by one is futile.