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EU CHIEFS sought to deny today that years of crippling budget cuts imposed on Italy could be responsible for the collapse of a Genoa motorway bridge with the loss of at least 39 lives earlier this week.
Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said that Italy would increase infrastructure spending to tackle dangerously degraded bridges and roads even if doing so breached EU rules.
EU spokesman Christian Spahr retorted that the 2014-2020 EU budget plan earmarks €2.5 billion for Italian network infrastructure spending and claimed that “the EU has encouraged investment in infrastructure.”
But investment in Italy’s roads dropped by over €10bn in the three years following the bankers’ crash of 2007-8. Left newspaper Il Manifesto pointed out today that spending had dropped from €7.30 to €2.20 per kilometre (£10.40 to £3.12 a mile) over a few years of savage budgets.
As recently as May, the European Commission was demanding further cuts to Italian public spending.
Cuts imposed by the Silvio Berlusconi administration up to 2011 were prescribed in minute detail by the European Central Bank, with a leaked letter from then bank chiefs Mario Draghi and Jean-Claude Trichet on August 5 2011 instructing the Italian prime minister to accelerate the “full liberalisation of local public services … through large-scale privatisations,” achieve a balanced budget by 2013 “mainly via expenditure cuts,” abolish collective bargaining and cut public-sector pay and pensions.
Former EU commissioner Mario Monti, who was installed as a technocrat PM from 2011, inflicted even deeper spending cuts on Italy.
Rome has said it will revoke the concession granted to the Atlantia holding company which controls Italy’s motorway operator Autostrade per l’Italia, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte saying it had not properly maintained the bridge.
The firm, itself owned by Benetton, has protested that specific fault has not been proven and, if it loses the concession, the government will need to pay its full value.
The death toll from the disaster is expected to rise, with Genoa’s chief prosecutor saying that “as many as 20” people could still be trapped under rubble.
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