Mon, May 01, 2017 - Page 14 News List

Fate of Alitalia divides a nation, paralyzes Rome

Reuters, ROME and MILAN

Italians are watching their flag carrier Alitalia SpA go into yet another financial tailspin and a growing number of them believe it would be better for the country if it crashed.

Outraged at repeated state bailouts that have cost taxpayers more than 7 billion euros (US$7.62 billion) over a decade, many Italians are taking to social media to urge the government to resist the political temptation to rush to its rescue again.

“In electoral terms, Alitalia is worth nothing. It’s a dead weight,” Angelino Ghinelli tweeted into a social media storm that has not gone unnoticed in Rome, where ministers have so far shown a strong reluctance to make any guarantees.

“Enough with saving Alitalia,” wrote Cinzia Briguglio, one of about 1,000 signatories to an online petition that sprang up last week, calling for the Italian government not to get involved.

Consumer groups have also chimed in, including one, Codacons, which has threatened to ask Italy’s Corte dei Conti, a judicial auditor, to examine any state bailout.

The court can fine officials, including ministers, for wasting public funds.

An opinion poll published on Friday, four days after Alitalia workers voted to reject a union-backed rescue plan proposed by management, showed that 77 percent of Italians believed the airline should be left to fail.

“It’s clear Italians are opposed to governments systematically running up deficits to deal with companies in crisis,” Index Research director Natascia Turato said in a comment the firm posted online, along with its poll results.

Without state support, Alitalia appears headed for collapse. Rival airlines show little interest in buying it and creditors refuse to lend more money.

Rome has thrown Alitalia a short-term lifeline, a bridging loan of up to 400 million euros to see it through a bankruptcy process, under which an administrator would decide if it can be sold as a going concern or should be liquidated.

However, the government has ruled out renationalizing the former state-owned business struggling to compete at home against low-cost carriers Ryanair Holding PLC and EasyJet PLC.

Italian Minister of Finance Pier Carlo Padoan has gone a step further, saying the government is unwilling, directly or indirectly, to invest any capital in it.

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