MILAN/ROME (Reuters) – Troubled Italian motorway operator Autostrade per l’Italia must increase an offer to cut road toll fees to avoid a revocation of its operating license, Transport Minister Paola de Micheli told la Repubblica newspaper on Thursday.
Autostrade, part of infrastructure group Atlantia
Asked whether Autostrade’s offer to cut tollway fees by 700 million euros ($778 million) as part of a settlement would be enough, De Micheli replied: “The proposal is insufficient”.
“We would have expected a significant reduction in tariffs at the tollgate without modifying a plan for greater investment in the network and in maintenance,” she said.
De Micheli has been under pressure from the 5-Star Movement, partners in Italy’s ruling coalition government, to revoke Autostrade’s license. But her center-left Democratic Party has resisted the call, arguing instead for renegotiating terms of the concession.
Her comments in La Repubblica appear to indicate a hardening in the PD position that could open the way to the concession being canceled. Autostrade has said this could force it into bankruptcy putting thousands of jobs at risk.
“The adoption of a revocation rests on two points, judicial and economic. Both have to be considered,” De Micheli said.
The PD and the centrist Italia Viva party, the third partner in the coalition, worry that cancelling the concession would cost billions in compensation to Autostrade, potentially embroiling the state in a long legal battle and hurting Italy’s image with international investors.
Underlining the tensions within the government, 5-Star officials repeated on Thursday that fining Autostrade would not be enough and that the motorway concession would have to be canceled and road tolls cut.
According to government sources, Autostrade has offered a total of 2 billion euros to resolve the standoff but the offer is considered insufficient by both 5-Star and the PD.
“The famous 2 billion proposed by Autostrade in compensation would actually only be 700 million because there would be 500 million to rebuild the bridge and another 800 million for the Genoa region and the government is taking these items as a given,” a PD official said.
“The 700 million is not enough, everyone in the coalition is agreed on this,” the person said.
($1 = 0.8998 euros)
(Reporting by Sabina Suzzi and Giuseppe Fonte, editing by James MacKenzie and Jane Merriman)