ROME (Reuters) – Atlantia’s motorway unit Autostrade per l’Italia has made the Italian government a new offer to settle a long-running dispute and prevent its concession being withdrawn, sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
Rome has been threatening to revoke the licence since the collapse in 2018 of a bridge in Genoa that was run by the motorway operator, killing 43 people, but the ruling parties are divided over the issue.
Autostrade’s last-ditch offer, presented as ministers gathered for a late night cabinet meeting to discuss the matter, would see Benetton-backed Atlantia eventually bow out of Autostrade, the sources said.
In a first stage, state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) would take a stake of 51% in Autostrade through a capital increase, the sources said.
The company would then be spun off to Atlantia investors and listed with the Benetton family either exiting or remaining with a residual stake, they said, adding the offer had not been finalised and could be subject to change.
Atlantia declined to comment.
The cabinet adjourned at around midnight to consider the new proposal, and reconvened about 40 minutes later.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte judged some aspects of the offer to be still insufficient, a government source said.
Autostrade’s previous offer, tabled on Saturday, was described by Conte as “unsatisfactory, not to say embarrassing.”
Investors and unions signalled risks as the prospect of Atlantia being stripped of its licence appeared more concrete.
Fondazione CRT, which owns nearly 5% of Atlantia <ATL.MI>, and a key foreign shareholder in Autostrade per l’Italia said the government could scare off foreign investors if it revoked the concession.
“We are very worried about the fate of Atlantia’s more than 10,000 direct employees and another 10,000 in the supply chain,” the CISL trade union said in a statement.
Conte has blamed Autostrade’s management failings for the Genoa bridge disaster but some ministers are concerned that ditching the concession could trigger a costly legal battle for an already heavily indebted Italian state.
The battle over Autostrade, which operates around 3,000 kilometres (1,850 miles) of Italy’s highway network, has become intensely political, much of it focusing on the role of the powerful Benetton family, Atlantia’s biggest shareholders.
The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement has been determined to drive the Benettons out of motorways, creating tensions with its coalition partners, who fear a hefty compensation claim.
Earlier on Tuesday, Benetton holding company Chairman Gianni Mion said Conte’s position was understandable given the tragedy surrounding the bridge collapse but the family hoped for a “fair” solution..
(additional reporting by Francesca Landini, writing by Gavin Jones and James Mackenzie; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Stephen Coates)