Grazie a Marcello che mi segnala un interessante articolo del Wall Street Journal sugli ultimi sviluppi della vicenda Alitalia. Così Monty tornerà a dirci la sua...
Silvio and Alitalia
March 25, 2008
On the economy, Silvio Berlusconi disappointed in his last turn as Italy's Prime Minister. Judging by his promises ahead of next month's snap elections, which he's favored to win, a third term in office won't be a charm.
Mr. Berlusconi last week came out against the proposed sale of Alitalia. His musings could soon be official policy and sink the one thing that stands between the Italian flag carrier and bankruptcy. They are also a signal of his lack of commitment to economic reform.
Alitalia's board earlier this month agreed to sell the airline to Air France-KLM in a share-swap deal that values the stock of the ailing airline at just €139 million, or about 10 European cents a share. But the Franco-Dutch group first wants guarantees that trade unions and politicians won't block painful restructuring moves, which likely will include trimming hundreds of employees from Alitalia's bloated work force. The Italian state owns 49.9% of Alitalia.
Mr. Berlusconi says he'll veto the deal if elected. The media mogul -- who has long favored "an Italian solution" for the ailing airline -- also predicted that local businessmen would rally to launch a counterbid. On cue, the small Rome-based carrier Air One over the weekend requested three more weeks to revise its failed bid for Alitalia.
In his last stint at Chigi Palace in 2001-2006, Mr. Berlusconi didn't find any saviors for Alitalia. Instead, he dithered as the company's debt soared, reaching some €1.3 billion this past January. Italian voters might ask Mr. Berlusconi why he didn't sell their stake in Alitalia back when it was actually worth something. The company's share price has fallen about 70% in the past two years.
The center-left's leader, former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, charges that Mr. Berlusconi is engaging in populist grandstanding before the elections. The other side could hit the former Prime Minister harder for his failure to set Italy's economy right when he had the chance.
Mr. Berlusconi promised tax cuts, labor-market reforms, and liberalization and failed to deliver on most counts. GDP grew by a cumulative 3.6% in his five years -- worse than France's 8.6% or even Germany's 4.5% during that time period, much less Spain's 17.7% or Britain's 13.4%.
Trade-union leaders also are threatening to scuttle the Alitalia deal unless Air France-KLM essentially gives up its right to restructure the airline back to health. These same unions helped to create Alitalia's misfortunes with their numerous strikes and repeated rejection of corporate restructuring. They'd do well to recall the fate of former Belgian flag carrier Sabena, whose workers refused concession after concession -- until the company finally went out of business. The Italian unions would have a much more difficult time taking a hard line if they weren't getting political cover from Mr. Berlusconi.
As this episode shows, Mr. Berlusconi has turned out to be more of a corporatist averse to free-market competition than an economic liberal willing to do what Italy needs to revive its faltering economy. He's also a politician willing to do anything to regain power. That's hardly good news for Alitalia, or for Italy.
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