India and Italy are expected to end nearly a decade of tensions over the arrest of Italian marines and other issues firmly behind them with discussions about a bilateral defence agreement that is likely to be announced during Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s visit to India.
Ms Meloni will meet Narendra Modi after 3 months, they last met on the sidelines of the G20 summit that happened in Bali.
Ms Meloni, the far-right Italian leader will be the chief guest of the Raisina Dialogue conference that is scheduled to happen on 2nd March in New Delhi.
Giorgia Meloni will be the third Italian Prime Minister to visit India in the last ten years after Paolo Gentiloni in 2017, and Giuseppe Conte in 2018.
This defence deal is very important for Italy for its Indo-Pacific strategy. According to sources, if this deal does not finalise during Meloni’s March visit, the agreement will be ready to sign during her next visit later in the year for the G20 summit scheduled to happen in September.
Overcoming tough times
Both countries saw a rough patch in bilateral relations during 2012-2015 when India arrested two Italian marines for the killing of Kerala fishermen off the Indian coast.
Ms Meloni and her rightist party Brothers of Italy reacted by expelling the Indian Ambassador over the issue. The case was resolved mutually at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
Other issues included the controversy surrounding the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal which further disrupted defence relations between both countries.
However, with continuous efforts and keeping channels of diplomacy open, in November 2021 after Mr Modi met with Italian PM Mario Draghi on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Rome, the defence ministry decided to lift the ban on Italian defence company Leonardo involved in the VVIP helicopter deal.
Moreover, Fincantieri of Italy, one of the world’s largest shipbuilding groups, provided technical assistance to India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant.
India and Italy also have a Military Cooperation Group (MCG), a forum established to encourage defence cooperation between the two countries through regular talks held between various defence headquarters of the two countries. The 11th MCG meeting was held in June 2022 in New Delhi.
Strategic Partnership of India and Italy in Energy Transition
The ties of the countries run deeper than the defence. A Joint Working Group was established in the field of Energy by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in New Delhi in October 2017. The group was tasked with exploring cooperation in areas like Smart Cities, smart grids, Integrated waste management, Green energies (green hydrogen, Compressed Natural Gas), second-generation bio-ethanol, castor oil etc.
The Green corridor Project was envisaged to synchronise electricity produced from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, with conventional power stations in the grid.
The Indian community in Italy is the second largest community of Indians in Europe after the UK. As first-generation migrants, the majority of them are engaged in economic sectors such as agriculture, dairy farming, the leather industry, construction work and the service industry.
Italy respects the principle of democracy, rule of law, free commerce and security which matches India’s interests. Thus collaborative actions will benefit both sides.