Italy's PM dismisses Atlantia bid to keep motorway licence as 'a joke'
Atlantia, controlled by the powerful Benetton family, has offered to give up control of Autostrade and allow in other partners including a state investment fund - but has indicated that it wants to remain a major shareholder. Conte said the latest proposals were "very unsatisfactory, not to say embarrassing," in the interview with the daily Il Fatto Quotidiano published on Monday.Reuters | Rome | Updated: 13-07-2020 18:28 IST | Created: 13-07-2020 17:55 IST
Italy's prime minister has poured scorn on the latest proposals from Atlantia to resolve a long-running dispute with the government and hold on to its lucrative toll road concession, sending its shares crashing more than 15%. Giuseppe Conte's comments come ahead of a cabinet meeting expected on Tuesday to decide whether to revoke the license held by Atlantia's Autostrade per l'Italia unit, which operates about 3,000 km of highway in Italy.
The unit managed a bridge that collapsed in the northern Italian city of Genoa in 2018, killing 43 people. Atlantia, controlled by the powerful Benetton family, has offered to give up control of Autostrade and allow in other partners including a state investment fund - but has indicated that it wants to remain a major shareholder.
Conte said the latest proposals were "very unsatisfactory, not to say embarrassing," in the interview with the daily Il Fatto Quotidiano published on Monday. "When I read the proposal, I thought it was a joke," he told the newspaper.
He said the cabinet would reach a collective decision. But he added it would be "truly paradoxical" for the state to invest in the group while the Benettons were shareholders, given the failures that led to the Genoa disaster. He signaled he would recommend revoking the concession. "I will only say I see only one decision, which is being imposed by Atlantia," he said.
Following Conte's comments, a source close to the Benettons said the family had always respected institutions, including when it had been asked to invest in privatizations. Shares in Autostrade dropped to their lowest level since March at the prospect of losing a concession that accounts for more than 10% of its core earnings and enables Autostrade to service some 10 billion euros ($11.33 billion) of debt.
Following months of wrangling, Atlantia has proposed a capital increase that would dilute its stake in Autostrade below 50% as well as compensation of 3.4 billion euros, investments in roadway infrastructure totaling some 14.5 billion euros and lower tariffs. However, it has insisted it wants to remain a major shareholder of Autostrade and has resisted legal changes that would make it easier for authorities to strip it of the license in cases of proven failures in running the motorways.
The issue has created serious political problems for Conte's shaky coalition, with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement determined to strip the Benettons, who own 30% of Atlantia, of the motorway concession. That has caused friction with partners in the center-left Democratic Party and centrist Italia Viva group, which fear a potentially costly court battle and heavy compensation payments as well as job losses.
($1 = 0.8826 euros)