* Government wants commitment to Italy clarified
* Fiat said investment plan needs review
* Unions, businessman criticise carmaker
ROME, Sept 16 (Reuters) - The Italian government is calling on Fiat to clarify its commitment to Italy after the carmaker reiterated its multi-billion-euro investment plan for its home country should not be interpreted as an absolute pledge.
The request by Industry Minister Corrado Passera and Welfare Minister Elsa Fornero follows criticism of Italy’s biggest industrial group from unions and a prominent Italian businessman after Fiat restated its position on Thursday.
“It is right, important and urgent that (Fiat) gives some clarification to the market and to the Italian people,” Passera told reporters on Saturday. “We will do whatever is possible to ensure that Fiat’s commitments towards Italy are honoured.”
Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne launched the ‘Fabbrica Italia’ plan in 2010, vowing to invest 20 billion euros ($26.3 billion) in Fiat and sister company Fiat Industrial over five years in exchange for, among others, more flexible labour rules at its loss-making Italian plants.
Fiat, which controls U.S. car group Chrysler, said on Thursday that dire market conditions make it unrealistic to expect its original project would remain unchanged, triggering a political storm in Italy, Fiat’s main market.
“We must talk about the future of Fiat as this does not only concern its shareholders but also its many employees, their families and the government itself,” Fornero said.
A government source told Reuters on Sunday no date had yet been set for a meeting between Passera and Marchionne.
Fiat already had said in October last year that it would no longer use the term Fabbrica Italia because it was being interpreted as an absolute commitment of the company.
But unions and the government were irritated when the carmaker repeated the plan was not definite at a time of uncertainty over whether Fiat may close some of its Italian plants.
“The reality is that it was a voluntary initiative with no requirement or pre-condition for public funding,” Fiat said on Thursday, stressing how market conditions had changed profoundly since the plan was first announced, with Fiat’s Italian sales down to levels not seen since the 1970s.
Fiat also said it would give information on product plans and production allocation when it publishes results in October.
The statement prompted businessman Diego Della Valle, who controls luxury shoemaker Tod‘s, to lash out at Fiat on Friday, accusing the company and Marchionne of a lack of coherence and commitment to Italy.
Left-wing union leader Susanna Camusso also criticised the carmaker, saying Fiat has for too long “made fun” of Italy.
“Can we still wait?,” she was quoted as saying on Sunday by newspaper La Repubblica. “The government must take charge and stop asking what Fiat plans to do and tell Fiat what the country intends to do.”