Previewing the Italian G7 Presidency

Introduction

The Japanese presidency of the Group of 7 (G7) produced a monumental shift in the tone of the G7 towards actively pursuing and defining an international economic security agenda. G7 members have also pursued economic security policies domestically in the past several years, with Japan and the European Union standing out as leaders in the field. As 2024 begins, the Italian government as the incoming G7 president is well situated to continue advancing an economic security agenda that aligns member policies.

The current Italian agenda allocates some space to the technology and security nexus, given the planned focus on artificial intelligence (AI). However, economic security and related policy areas are more muted and are rumored to be reshuffled out of the political track. Italy’s recent announcement that it is leaving China’s Belt and Road Initiative indicates that Italy has a significant role to play in advancing economic security discussions at the upcoming G7. 2023 witnessed historic alignment on economic security, as indicated by the launch of the anti-coercion platform. The 2024 Italian presidency should further cement these issues as a primary—and ongoing—topic of the G7.

Italian G7 Plans

While there is not a “roadmap” document laying out the Italian G7 agenda, official speeches and press statements contain clues to Italy’s intentions. One of the first official statements on Italy’s plan emanated from Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September, where she laid out two of the planned themes: the “Mattei Plan for Africa” and AI safety.

The focus on AI safety is a continuation from the 2023 round of the G7 and will remain a major theme in 2024. What is less obvious is whether the G7 can produce concrete or binding outcomes. The Code of Conduct and Guiding Principles released through the Hiroshima AI Process in October of 2023 did little to advance beyond voluntary measures. It remains to be seen how the Italians will attempt to bridge the gap between statements and action.

The other major effort is Prime Minister Meloni’s “Mattei Plan for Africa.” Named after Enrico Mattei, the founder of a major Italian firm, this plan intends to position Italy as an energy hub between Africa and Europe, investing in gas and hydrogen pipelines between the two continents. Further details of the plan were made public at the Italy-Africa Summit on January 29, where Prime Minister Meloni emphasized in her opening remarks that this summit was the first international event Italy was hosting as G7 president, symbolizing Italy’s intentions to prioritize Africa in the G7 agenda. At the summit, Italy announced five areas for investment— energy, agriculture, water, health, and education—along with several pilot projects.

Furthermore, Italy announced an initial budget of 5.5 billion euros for the plan, around 3 billion of which would come from the Italian Climate Fund. This aligns with earlier promises that 70 percent of its climate fund would be earmarked for the continent. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Antonio Tajani has stated publicly that Italy is looking to others, including EU member states, to financially support this plan. How the G7 might factor into Italy’s financial calculations is not yet clear.

One contentious aspect of the Mattei Plan relates to migration. While Prime Minister Meloni built much of her election campaign on promises to address migration, some of her suggestions and policy decisions since gaining office have been criticized by human rights organizations. When the Mattei Plan was announced, some experts worried that it was a cover for further anti-immigration policy dressed up as an energy investment plan. While these fears have not yet been realized, discussions of migration at the G7, a stated priority of the Italian presidency, would likely not realize major gains due to the impossibility of reaching an agreement on the topic from all seven members.

Beyond these two themes—AI and Africa—it is likely that Ukraine and Israel will continue to occupy headlines. Moreover, readouts from recent calls between the Italian foreign minister and G7 counterparts indicate continued momentum in shifting the G7 focus toward the Indo-Pacific.

Italy on Economic Security and China

While the Italian’s willingness to address topics of economic security has grown, the topic will likely not hold the same level of importance as it did under last year's G7 presidency. The contours of this year’s G7 agenda contain no mentions of economic coercion, supply chains, de-risking, or trade, which each constitute major pillars of economic security. During Prime Minister Meloni’s visit to the United States, the Biden White House urged Italy to continue to prioritize economic security during its G7 presidency. The closest the Italians came to a promise to discuss these topics appeared in Prime Minister Meloni and President Biden’s joint statement, which affirmed that the United States was eagerly awaiting Italy’s G7 Presidency and their work on economic security within the G7. So, while these topics will not disappear, they seem to be taking a backseat to Italy’s domestic priorities, which risks decreasing allied momentum.

Italy does not have an explicit economic security strategy. As an EU member state, Italy is guided by the European Union’s Economic Security Strategy and its five new initiatives announced on January 24. Italy, similar to the United States, does not have an explicit domestic economic security doctrine. Nevertheless, Italy is strong in policy areas that have begun to be associated with economic security, such as foreign direct investment screening and critical minerals diplomacy, where Italy is collaborating with Germany and France on investments. Italy also announced and is currently planning a “Made in Italy” fund which would support critical supply chains.

A major milestone for Italy on economic security came from its decision to withdraw from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in December. The only G7 member to join the initiative back in 2019, Italy’s decision to leave constitutes a major shift toward de-risking from China. Controversial even domestically when it was signed, the agreement to join the BRI had not resulted in the increased trade or investments that the Italians had desired, decreasing already low enthusiasm for staying in the agreement. Italy’s departure is a largely symbolic gesture that Italy is reaffirming its position as a solid member of the transatlantic alliance. This decision also highlights Italy’s unique position and high credibility in leading economic security dialogues within the G7.

Japan’s 2023 Presidency of the G7

To the extent possible, Italy should carry forward many of the Japanese G7 priorities, including economic security efforts. In the 2023 G7 Economic Resilience and Economic Security statement, leaders announced a shared definition of economic security that broadly aligns with de-risking supply chains, addressing economic coercion, and combating technology leakage. Differing views on economic relations with China have historically obfuscated a clearer articulation of economic security, highlighting the tremendous utility of institutionalizing discussions over problems such as nonmarket excess capacity, economic coercion, and advanced technology leakage.

The same statement also announced plans to form the Coordination Platform on Economic Coercion. The platform will facilitate the sharing of information among allies and align positions against economic coercion—assuming Italy maintains focus on this very useful endeavor. As close international partners continue to deepen respective “de-risking” agendas, confronting trade retaliation (whether through targeted export restrictions on critical minerals or broader market access denials) will continue to remain a key priority.

The Japanese G7 presidency also focused significant attention on AI safety and regulation. The Hiroshima AI Process, announced last year at the May G7 Leaders’ Summit, came as calls for increased regulation of AI were beginning to gain traction internationally. AI has been a major topic globally and within G7 member states, evidenced by Germany, France, and Italy’s efforts to shape the European Union’s recent AI Act, the Biden administration’s executive order on AI, and the United Kingdom’s hosting of the first annual AI Safety Summit in Bletchley Park. While domestic efforts, such as the U.S. executive order and the EU AI Act, stand to majorly impact how these major powers regulate and think about AI, it will be vital to secure multilateral buy-in to AI regulation policies, and the G7 can serve as an important forum for advancing these discussions.

Policy Recommendations

The G7 is at a turning point. Participating members have a historic opportunity to use the existing grouping as a starting block for a more solidified economic security alliance. As Italy continues to construct its agenda, it should consider the following priorities:

  1. Maintain the focus on economic security: The momentum on the economic security diplomacy achieved under Japan’s leadership must continue. Members should discuss economic security policies such as export controls, outbound investment screening, and supply chain coordination to better align with G7 allies.
  2. Push for concrete outcomes on AI: Italy should continue Hiroshima AI Process work and advance standards development and also binding rules for high-risk AI applications.
  3. Institutionalize the G7: Institutionalizing the G7 with permanent staff and a secretariat would provide durability for the G7.
  4. Expand membership: G7 admissions have typically relied on GDP size. As overall G7 GDP shrinks, the G7 should reconsider this criterion to allow Australia and the Republic of Korea to join.

As the incoming president of the G7, Italy is well positioned to continue the work of the Japanese on economic security. Italy’s recent departure from the Belt and Road Initiative and the release of the updated EU Economic Security Strategy shape an environment that places Italy as the obvious successor to Japanese leadership on the issues. The impact of continuing to pursue economic security policies offers immense return on investment.

Emily Benson is the director of the Project on Trade and Technology and senior fellow with the Scholl Chair in International Business at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Catharine Mouradian is the program manager and research assistant with the Project on Trade and Technology at CSIS. Pau Alvarez-Aragones is an intern with the Project on Trade and Technology at CSIS.

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Emily Benson
Director, Project on Trade and Technology and Senior Fellow, Scholl Chair in International Business

Pau Alvarez-Aragones

Research Intern, Project on Trade and Technology