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16 March 2023, Gateway House

India and Italy: Partners in Peninsularity

The state visit by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on 2-3 March marked the elevation of the India-Italy bilateral to a strategic partnership. Both countries have set the stage for an expanding relationship based on shared interests and priorities in defence, security, trade, and energy sectors – domestically and in the broader Indo-Pacific region.

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The visit of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to India is a significant and well noted event.[1] It shows that the new government in Italy has settled down and the expectation of a full-term government will be fulfilled. Thus, for India to reengage with Italy purposefully at this stage has a new emphasis.

The seriousness with which both countries now look at each other is revealed in the agreement signed to enhance the bilateral to a strategic partnership.[2] Italy is now a signatory to the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI)[3] in the pillars of science, technology, and academic cooperation,[4] signalling its readiness to partner with India in the Indo-Pacific, both on its own and as part of the EU Indo-Pacific strategy to which all EU countries subscribe. The joint statement reiterated the importance of “promoting a cooperative system of international ocean and sea governance and of maintaining the rules-based maritime order, based on international law, in particular UNCLOS”. This is as close to a counter-China approach as can be. In fact, Meloni remained cautious in not talking about China in public.[5]

The two Prime Ministers also welcomed the deepening of defence cooperation over the last two years and will soon sign an MOU on defence cooperation. The leaders agreed on the potential for co-development and co-production of defence equipment in India. Prime Minister Modi invited Italian defence companies to actively participate in the Make in India initiative. Closer cooperation on counter terrorism and cyber security is also on the cards. Meloni has built on a growing closeness. In November 2020, the India-Italy virtual summit was held between Modi and then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Conte had visited India in October 2018 at the time of the Technology Summit to bring IoT, green technology, healthcare, and aerospace into the bilateral discussion. That period put an end to the tensions created by the Marines controversy which had disturbed the Indo- Italian partnership. At the time, the plan of action 2020-2024 focused on MSMEs, particularly in sectors of finance, food processing and manufacturing. A fast-track mechanism was established in 2019 for resolving investment issues. In turn, Prime Minister Modi visited Rome in 2021 for the G20 Summit and held bilateral meetings with then Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.[6]

Italy is now India’s fourth largest European trading partner with bilateral trade over $10 billion[7] with the balance in India’s favour. Italian FDI is about $2 billion. In 2021, about 600 Italian companies were present in India, and Italy has identified India amongst its top five priority countries for business.[8] Italy has also had a large Indian diaspora,[9] much of it illegal but accepted with periodic amnesties. A Declaration of Intent (DOI) on Migration and Mobility and the accompanying announcement of the India-Italy Start Up Bridge during Meloni’s visit promises to aid the mobility of professionals and skill transfer between the two countries.

For its part, India has been enhancing its engagement with Europe through a variety of means, and clearly wants European countries to play a larger role, particularly in the strategic dimensions of the Indo-Pacific and for bilateral trade and investment. On both fronts, frameworks have been provided by the EU through the EU Indo-Pacific policy (EUIPP) and the India- EU negotiations on trade, investment and the like.

However, the lack of progress on the India-EU successor agreement to the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) has inhibited the further expansion of trade and investment between the two. At the same time, relationships with individual European countries are moving ahead, with France, Germany, and now Italy stepping outside the bounds of the EUIPP and engaging directly with the IPOI. During his visit to New Delhi in February 2023, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged his personal involvement in sealing a free trade agreement between India and the EU.[10] As India’s fourth largest trading partner in Europe, Italy too needs to nudge its representatives in Brussels to push for the same.

Finally, Meloni drew attention to a commonality which she saw between Indian and Italian geostrategic approaches.  Both countries, she said, have the advantage of ‘peninsularity’ which is perhaps somewhere between insularity and continentality[11]. In her view, Italy is a maritime country with attention to the south and the Mediterranean, its natural neighbourhood. In particular, she referred to Italy’s Mattei plan for the Mediterranean-African energy partnership[12]. This restricts migration by providing opportunities in Africa to control migration for which Italy is the first landing point and perhaps a major victim. Italy also sees Africa as a region rich in energy resources, which are critical for Europe. Italy wants to play a role in determining a partnership on energy and ensure prosperity and perhaps peace with Africa through collaboration as partners.

Meloni’s priority to developing a relationship with India based on common priorities such as energy, and using Italy as the bridge to connect the eastern Mediterranean, Africa and Europe, was expressed by her publicly. With India,[13] Italy sees the necessity for a simultaneous digital and energy transition, which can provide collaborative opportunities for India and Europe across the Mediterranean, particularly through the Blue Raman project that links the Indo- Pacific to Europe.[14]

This was the first major meeting with Meloni and therefore was more contemporary and impactful. Modi and Meloni had already met in Bali in November 2022 at the G20. Now they have set the stage for an expansion, overcoming differences over UN reform and China, with an Italy less inclined towards China but unable to decouple quickly. Leaning toward India will help correct that imbalance.

Gurjit Singh was India’s ambassador to Germany, Indonesia, Ethiopia, ASEAN and the African Union.

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[1] India, Ministry of External Affairs. India-Italy Joint Statement during the State Visit of the President of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) of the Italian Republic to India (March 02-03, 2023), 2 March, 2023,

[2] India, Ministry of External Affairs, List of Outcomes, 2 March 2023,

[3] Gurjit Singh, “The India ASEAN AOIP-IPOI cooperation”, ORF, 15 October 2022,

[4] Harsh Pant, “The India-Italy Connect in the Indo-Pacific”, ORF, 28 February 2023,

[5] India, Ministry of External Affairs. India-Italy Joint Statement during the State Visit of the President of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) of the Italian Republic to India (March 02-03, 2023), 2 March, 2023,

[6] Gurjit Singh, “India and Italy get going”, Gateway House, 18 November 2020,

[7] “India, Italy have huge opportunities to boost economic ties,” Times of India, 6 May 2022,

[8] Stefania Benagalia, “Modi-Conte meeting strengthens Indo-Italian relations”, ORF, 30 October 2018

[9] “India-Italy Bilateral Relations,” Embassy of India, Rome, November 2022,

[10] Rupam Jai and Tom Sims, “Germany’s Scholz committed for Free Trade deal between India, EU,” Reuters, 25 Feb 2023,

[11] Government of Italy, Presidency of the Council of Ministers, “President Meloni’s speech at the Raisina Dialogue conference”, 2 March 2023,

[12] Carlos Perona Calvete, “Italy’s Mattei Plan,” The European Conservative, 4 March 2023,

[13] “India, Italy have huge opportunities to boost economic ties,” Times of India, 6 May 2022,

[14] The Blue and Raman cable systems are Google’s investments in an 8000 km subsea cables. The Blue Cable System connects Italy, Greece and Israel, from Genoa to Aqaba and the Raman Cable System connects Aqaba in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Mumbai, India. Both the Blue and Raman cable systems consists of 16 fibre optic pairs, and are expected to be ready for service in 2024.[14]The India to Jordan part is named in honour of Indian physicist and Nobel laureate Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman. Google’s Europe to India cable Blue Raman costs $400 million, Consultancy EU, 28 December 2020,