February 3, 2020 / 5:03 PM / 22 days ago

Italy's PM Conte in talks to break Atlantia concessions deadlock

ROME, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to meet key figures in the country’s ruling coalition this week to settle a dispute over how to make it easier and less costly to revoke motorway concessions, a government official told Reuters on Monday.

New rules making it easier to strip an operator of its motorway concession have become a flashpoint for tensions in the coalition after the 2018 collapse of a bridge controlled by Autostrade per l’Italia, the motorway business of infrastructure group Atlantia.

“A meeting should take place this week, likely on Wednesday,” said the source.

Investigators into the bridge collapse have pointed to evidence of poor maintenance and mismanagement. Atlantia, controlled by the prominent Benetton family, has denied any wrongdoing and warned the government it would challenge any revocation of the concession in the courts.

Conte’s government, a coalition between the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), supported by the small centrist Italia Viva party, has been deeply split over the issue.

Leading 5-Star politicians have insisted that Atlantia must be stripped of its lucrative concession, while the PD has been more cautious, fearing that revoking the licence could force the government to pay billions of euros in compensation.

Italia Viva, led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, opposes revocation, saying it would scare away foreign investors.

Last month’s local elections in the Emilia Romagna region in northern Italy, produced a victory for the PD candidate and big losses for 5-Star. This has affected the balance of power within the coalition, boosting Atlantia’s share price as investors bet that revocation was becoming less likely.

Measures making it easier to revoke the concession came into force late in December as part of a broader decree that must be ratified by Italy’s two houses of parliament by the end of February or it will expire.

Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte; editing by James Mackenzie and Jane Merriman

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