Italy is considering the sale of two FREMM frigates to Egypt, months after it was reported the two countries were close to signing a deal.
The frigates would be drawn from the Italian Navy’s procurement programme – the vessels Spartaco Schergat and Emilio Bianchi, launched in January 2019 and January 2020, respectively – enabling Fincantieri to sell the vessels for an estimated cost of €1.2 billion.
This is according to the Ansa news agency, which reported on 8 June that approval was granted after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Sunday.
In March, Alberto Cutillo, the director of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Military Material Authorisation Unit (UAMA), told the Italian parliament that Fincantieri had been given permission to negotiate the sale of the two frigates.
To support the purchase, it is believed that Italian state bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) would issue an export financing loan worth up to €500 million.
However, Italy’s foreign minister Luigi Di Maio on 10 June told a parliamentary hearing that the government was conducting a technical and legal analysis of the Fincantieri deal, applying national and international rules, Reuters reported. He said the government is weighing political considerations and is still analysing the deal.
Rumours Rome had approved the sale raised criticism in Italy and members of the government have voiced concerns about Egypt’s human rights record, especially after Italian student Giulio Regeni was tortured and murdered in Cairo in 2016, Reuters said.
The frigate sale is apparently part of a larger deal that includes four more frigates, 20 Falaj class corvettes, 24 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters, 24 M346 jet trainers, and a surveillance satellite, but it is not clear how far along these deals are to being signed. Leonardo has already received an 871 million euro contract to supply 24 AW149 and eight AW189 helicopters to Egypt’s military, some of which will be used aboard navy ships.
Egypt’s interest in the FREMM frigates – as well as its decision last year to procure up to six warships from Germany, at least three of which are Meko frigates – comes as Cairo’s relationship with France has cooled. La Tribune reported that French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to press his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, on human rights during the former’s visit to Egypt in January of last year likely played a role in Egypt’s shifting gears on military procurement towards other European suppliers.