Taking a page from Beijing, Rome is positioning itself as the center of trade, energy, and transportation in Southern Europe and beyond.
Rome is rising over the Mediterranean, this time as an economic power. Whereas 2020 focused international attention on Italy’s plight as the epicenter of Europe’s initial COVID-19 outbreak, in 2021, Rome has emerged as Europe’s fastest-rising economic power in the wider Mediterranean region, from North Africa to the Balkans and beyond. Two-decades in the making, Italy’s focus on trans-Mediterranean commercial connectivity has achieved something akin to a Mediterranean version of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, with Italy at the center.
Termed il Mediterraneo allargato (“the enlarged Mediterranean”), the map of Italy’s rising 21st-century commercial prowess looks a lot like the first-century map of the Roman Empire. And just as other powers had to bow to that empire, because the post-Brexit European Union’s economic engine now consists of Germany, France, and Italy, the extent to which Paris and Berlin accommodate Rome’s wider Mediterranean agenda will determine the EU’s ability to function coherently, with repercussions for the NATO alliance as well.