On Wednesday, the Ministry of Economy announced that it will enter into exclusive negotiations with the US fund Certares and the airlines Delta Air Lines and Air France-KLM for the sale of the airline ITA Airways, which it controls 100 percent. The ministry’s decision was rather surprising, given that for months it seemed that the most solid and advantageous offer was that of MSC in partnership with the German airline Lufthansa. The fact that the announcement came less than a month after the general elections and the formation of a new government has created many discussions among the parties, and will most likely become one of the most debated topics in the electoral campaign in the coming days.
It was a decision strongly criticized by the Brothers of Italy, which polls indicate as the likely most voted party in the elections. The leader Giorgia Meloni had already said in recent weeks that the acceptance of the offers for the purchase of ITA Airways was not the responsibility of the current outgoing government, led by Mario Draghi, and that the outcome of the elections on 25 September was to be awaited. to make any decision.
Meloni reiterated this on Wednesday after the announcement of the Ministry of Economy: “I remember that the current government should do the minimum things, since Parliament is formally dissolved, so I do not think that such a strategic matter is the competence of this government”.
Furthermore, it is not new that Meloni is opposed to the sale of ITA Airways and that he hopes that Italy will keep a national airline. “In my opinion it was necessary to evaluate the possibility of maintaining our flag company, we certainly do not make a great impression to be, perhaps, the only large Western country that does not have its own flag company”, he said, suggesting that in the case if it went to the government it would oppose the sale of ITA Airways.
The Democratic Party and Action opposed Meloni’s position, which had supported Draghi until the end: both commented positively on Wednesday’s decision by the Ministry of Economy. The leader of the 5 Star Movement Giuseppe Conte was less clear, instead he only asked to “clarify the reasons that led to favoring the American offer”.
There have been no comments from Lega leader Matteo Salvini, whose party has so far not taken a clear position on the matter. For example, the Minister of Economic Development Giancarlo Giorgetti (who has always held more moderate positions in the League than Salvini), had long ago expressed his support for the offer of MSC and Lufthansa, which was considered more solid. On Wednesday he commented on the news of the start of exclusive negotiations with the other consortium saying that “he took the League by surprise” and that “with this hypothesis there is no future for the company and its workers”.
The fact that Meloni’s position is not supported by all the other parties of the right, and not even by some members of his own party, should not be surprising, given that the sale of ITA Airways has long been considered by almost all Italian political parties. a necessity.
ITA Airways is in fact relatively small and has a rather small fleet compared to other large European “flag carriers”, and many even on the right know that keeping an airline completely under state control can lead to more trouble than anything else.
This is due to the fact that when in October 2021 it took over Alitalia, which had been in a serious economic crisis for years, ITA had to guarantee an economic discontinuity between the two companies in order not to inherit debts: therefore it had to start almost from scratch. The purchase offers arrived in recent months had therefore been very positively received by the Draghi government, aware that only a strong commercial partner could ensure a solid future for ITA Airways and its workers.
There is also a worrying precedent, which raises concerns that negotiations will jump after the elections: between 2007 and 2008 the center-left government led by Romano Prodi made an agreement with Air France-KLM for the sale of Alitalia, but in January in 2008 the government fell and new elections were held. In the election campaign, the opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi said he was against the negotiation because it was necessary “to preserve the Italian character of the company”, and in April the consortium withdrew its offer.
What followed is known: the new government led by Berlusconi divided Alitalia into two companies, one so-called good company led by a group of Italian entrepreneurs, which contained the “healthy” parts of the company and had been bought for much less than what Air France-KLM had offered, and a bad company with debts left in the hands of the state. The decision was disastrous, and contributed to the economic collapse of Alitalia, as well as a huge outlay for the state.
At the moment the negotiation for the sale of ITA Airways has just begun and it is not certain that it will be concluded before 25 September: however, if by that date the parties should reach an agreement and sign a preliminary sale contract, at that point the new government – whatever it is – he will find himself obliged to respect the pact unless he pays a large penalty.
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