This is the English translation of the translation, into Italian, of a French speech that Enrico Mattei (1906-1962) held in Tunisia in 1960 while negotiating an agreement in his function as the 1953 founder and director of Italy’s Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI)—a conglomerate that managed Italy’s energy needs and led Italy’s energy foreign policy, pleasing many citizens but displeasing some high-ranking officials.
Already in the 1950s Mattei openly supported independence movements, also French Algeria’s. Moreover, he was a sharp Western critic of the world’s dominant oil companies, British Petroleum (until 1954, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company), Royal Dutch Shell, and the five US firms Standard Oil Company of California, Gulf Oil, Texaco, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, and Standard Oil Company of New York, who in various combinations enjoyed oil monopolies in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. He talked of Anglo-Saxon oil imperialism and in the 1950s coined the moniker the “Seven Sisters”—after the seven Pleiades sisters of Greek mythology—for those companies, leaving out the Compagnie Française des Pétroles that formed part of Iran’s and Iraq’s consortium, too. Unable to break into these two consortia or into the Saudi one, he succeeded to circumvent the Iranian one, which had been midwifed by the US government a year after the 1953 CIA-led coup d’Etat against Prime Minister Muhammad Musaddiq, who in 1951 had nationalized Iran’s oil.
In 1957 Mattei and Iran’s monarch, Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-1980; r. 1941-1979), cut a deal whose profit terms—75-percent for Iran, 25-percent for ENI—undercut the Iranian consortium’s 50-50 terms. The US government did not oppose the deal, hoping it would buoy the shah’s popularity and hence stabilize a Cold War client bordering the Soviet Union. When in 1959 Mattei signed an oil deal with the Soviet Union, he again shocked the consortia and now also Washington: for dealing with the Soviets, and because they sold oil for less than the consortia. (This deal was a contributing factor to a price cut by the large US companies in July 1960, which angered oil producing countries and triggered the birth, in September, of the Organization of the Petroleum Producing Countries, or OPEC, a project discussed from 1959 by Arabs including the Saudi Abdallah al-Tariqi.) In 1958 and 1960, Mattei negotiated deals inter alia with two minor Arab oil producers, Morocco and Tunisia, respectively. Moreover, he entertained contacts with the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale. In 1962 he died in an airplane crash that in 1997 was ruled to have been caused by a bomb—perpetrators unknown.