Italy is preparing to commit itself to completing the TAV high-speed rail project through the Alps to France, in a sudden about-face by long-time opponent the Five Star Movement, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The green light later this month for the multi-billion-euro plan could further undermine anti-establishment Five Star — led by Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio — which already suffered a defeat in May 26 European parliamentary elections. The rightist League of fellow Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini became the country’s biggest party in that vote.
Government and Five Star leaders are discussing how to present the policy reversal to supporters, said two of the people, who asked not to be named discussing confidential talks. Di Maio may argue that increased funding from the European Union changes the business case for the project, which had been criticized in a previous cost-benefit analysis.
Five Star strategists are also hoping the party activists may be less interested in the issue as summer holidays start, the people said.
Tensions over the project have threatened the coalition’s survival. While the League favors the plan as a way to boost business in its northern stronghold, Five Star has opposed it on environmental grounds. France has argued that since the project is already well underway, it should proceed as planned.
The EU has given Italy until July 26 to answer a request for a report on works planned for the coming months, according to a person with knowledge of the procedure. That reply will be needed before the EU unlocks a new round of funding, the person added. France has already committed to the project.
Premier Giuseppe Conte’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Spokesmen for Di Maio and the Transportation Ministry declined to comment. A spokesman for the Italo-French consortium directing the rail link declined to comment.
Di Maio got a taste of the continued opposition to the project during a visit to Turin Friday, when he was grilled by some 300 critics of the rail link.
Works are currently outsourced to a group of companies led by France’s Spie Batignolles, which includes Eiffage Génie Civil, Ghella SpA, CMC and Cogeis. About 450 people are employed at the project site, while more than 2,000 are involved in support functions.
–With assistance from Helene Fouquet, Nikos Chrysoloras and Alessandro Speciale.
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