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10 February 2023

On February 10th, 1953, the President of the Italian Republic, Luigi Einaudi, promulgated Law No. 136, which established Eni, the then acronym for Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (National Hydrocarbons Agency). The bill had been proposed to the Chamber of Deputies on July 13th, 1951 by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, and the Chamber had approved it a year later, on July 9th, 1952. Forwarded to the Senate, the text had been finally approved in the sessions of January 20th-21st, 1953. With the establishment of Eni, a process that had gradually convinced the government to provide the country with an energy parent company that would be responsible for hydrocarbon exploration, transport, and processing, represented respectively by Agip, Snam, and Anic, came to an end.

A process that had gradually convinced the government to provide the country with an energy parent company

Archival documents

In the images above:

The original archive papers reproduced are taken from a file in the collection of President Enrico Mattei's Secretariat described in the inventory at the following link. It includes the original text of the bill for the establishment of Eni with its modifications and additions, various amendments, Mattei's handwritten notes and drafts of his speeches at the Chamber of Deputies. For the official documents of the legislative process, concerning the discussion and approval of the law, please refer to the historical website of the Chamber of Deputies and to the website of the Heritage of the Archive of the Senate of the Republic.

In the images below:

  1. The first page of Eni Executive Board's first minutes of April 23rd, 1953. 
  2. Image of Eni's corporate structure, taken from the first financial statement sheet as at April 30th, 1954.

Enrico Mattei launches a massive exploration campaign

The promoter of this new approach to the Italian energy policy had been Enrico Mattei, a young entrepreneur who was born in the Marche region, and had later become a partisan leader and a Christian-Democracy party representative in the immediate post-war period. Mattei, who had been called upon by the government to liquidate Agip, had instead relaunched its activities through a massive exploration campaign in the Po Valley, which had yielded excellent results. Within a few years, the methane found in various areas of the Po Valley had reached the main northern industries, providing energy at a competitive price and breaking the dependence on foreign energy sources (especially coal).

In the podcast the historical reconstruction to Luciano Segreto, Full Professor of Economic History at the University of Florence, Lecturer of Corporate Governance at the Bocconi University of Milan since 2011 and Permanent Visiting Professor at the Polytechnic University of Gdansk since 2015.

Within a few years, the methane found had reached the main northern industries

The law process overcomes the resistance of the opponents

During the two years of the authorisation process of the law, some people expressed, of course, criticism and opposition. Against a convinced and unconditional support given to Mattei's project by MPs Togni, Vanoni, and by the very head of government De Gasperi (to name but a few), opposing voices were raised by those who saw the choice of entrusting the extraction industry rather to the private sector as the only way to truly develop the oil industry. The loudest voice then rose from the Action Party, and it was that of the MP don Luigi Sturzo. Not loud enough, however, to make the government give up. Eni started its activities by strengthening research in Italy and then, as early as 1954, abroad, particularly in Africa.

Below: Sequence from "Questo è l'Eni" by Berto Pelosso, 1970

During the two years of the authorisation process of the law, some people expressed, of course, criticism and opposition

The huge exploration work in the Po Valley

The founding of Eni is closely linked to its first president, Enrico Mattei, and his determination to change the energy fortunes of Italy, a country that was emerging destroyed and impoverished from five years of war. While working to convince the government to create a parent company that would control the exploration, transport, and processing of hydrocarbons, he was simultaneously supporting and prompting Agip in its huge exploration and drilling work in the Po Valley. The results were not long in coming. The methane that was found was of such significant extent that by the end of the 1940s Italy was the third largest country in the world in terms of pipeline extension, after the United States and the then USSR. The rate at which the Italian dream was achieved makes agriculture and industry coexist in many images from the historical archive, as a metaphor of our country, that was in a hurry to shake off poverty, fast-pacing towards the years of the economic miracle. The results of the exploration in the Po Valley and the evident boost that they gave to the entire economy of our country allowed Mattei to find many supporters in the ranks of the government (among them Ezio Vanoni, Alcide De Gasperi, and Giovanni Togni), thus succeeding in a few years in completing the legislative process for the creation of Eni.

By the end of the 1940s Italy was the third largest country in the world in terms of pipeline extension

From AGIP to Eni: Backlash in the Press

The debate on the management of Italy's subsoil resources was forcefully launched with the nationalization of the Agip reservoirs in the Po Valley since 1949. The interest in hydrocarbons was more than controversial, embedded in a framework of great involvement and strong political and social contrasts. From sensational launches to the release of parliamentary proceedings on a new law regulating energy matters, the press follows the civil debates that are divergent on major issues: public management or free enterprise, domestic or foreign funding, nature and extent of concessions. The proclamation of Law No. 136 of February 10th, 1953, set off the public monopoly in the Po Valley, leaving the remaining national territory under concession arrangements.

The images:

1. 1949 In June, the launch of the Caviaga and Cortemaggiore discoveries accompanied Agip president Boldrini's statements, urged by the then vice-president Enrico Mattei and an inspection of the wells by Finance Minister Vanoni. The swell of national enthusiasm inflated the headlines about the companies in that sector and heralded the prospective use of the discovered energy sources for post-war recovery.

2. 1949-1950 The interests raised by the confirmation of the extent of the fields led to pressing demands for the purchase of shares in the companies involved, and four hundred applications for mining concessions in the country. Enrico Mattei coined the memorable expression of the «open safe» as a metaphor for the Po Valley, and claimed for Agip the management of that area; the Minister of Industry's project on the enhancement of energy resources was under debate.

3. 1950-1952 Since the start of the law's discussion process, the press followed the debates on the increase in available facilities, figures, and volumes of energy; at the same time discussions also began on the law on compulsory easements for methane pipelines and the amendments to the law of 1927 on mining concessions, which had become necessary due precisely to the new energy scenario.

4. 1952-1953 The approval in principle of a National Hydrocarbons Authority under monopoly in the Chamber of Deputies opened a heated year of debate on the discussion in the Senate, in the broader context of political clashes over the government's vote of confidence and the approval of the new election law, a moment of great political involvement of the nation. On January 22nd, 1953 the law was also approved by the Senate thus restricting the monopoly on the Po Valley to Eni.

The debate on the management of Italy's subsoil resources was forcefully launched