Italy to decide ‘soon’ on motorway concession revocations, says PM

The government has tabled a law decree to revoke the concessions of Autostrade per l’Italia, which it holds responsible for the deadly Morandi Bridge collapse in August 2018.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Monday that his government would decide ”soon” on the fate of the motorway concessions of Autostrade per l’Italia, with his administration making moves to nationalise the assets.

Conte’s comments came as politicians continue to analyse the law decree, put before parliament on 31 December, which stipulated the revocation of all of Autostrade’s concessions, stretching 3,020 km. The law was drafted in response to the collapse in August 2018 of the Morandi Bridge, which killed 43 people. The bridge in Genoa was being managed by Autostrade.

“The government’s decision will come soon and will be based on a solid technical-legal basis,” Conte said in a statement on his Facebook page on 13 January, reiterating comments he made in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera. “It is now clear that serious defaults in the management of motorway infrastructures have emerged.”

Luca Amicarelli, counsel at Allen & Overy, told Infrastructure Investor the decree would need to be passed within 60 days of its introduction to take effect. It does not contain any references to compensation to Autostrade, which is likely to challenge the decree in a constitutional court. The court may choose to cancel the revocation until the case has been heard, which is likely to take between six and 12 months, Amicarelli said.

The passage of the decree is complicated by Italy’s coalition politics. Conte’s 5 Star Movement and the Democrat party support the revocation, though junior coalition partner Italia Viva, led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, insists compensation must be paid to Autostrade.

Despite Conte’s insistence that “serious defaults have emerged”, Amicarelli said this had yet to be officially proven.

“There is an investigation and it will decide whether or not Autostrade had enough responsibility,” he explained. “The government wants to qualify the revocation for a breach of the agreement by the concessionaire. It is not known though as the investigation is still proceeding.”

‘Very severe remedies’

In his interview with Corriere Della Sera, Conte warned Autostrade against appealing the decision, should it pass, reminding it of the tragedy that occurred.

“Foreign investors know that even in their countries of origin there are legal systems that provide for very severe remedies in case of breach of contract, of such serious defaults,” he said. “Then, when there are such obvious public interests and 43 victims, I would avoid recalling formulas such as ‘legal certainty’ and ‘rule of law’.”

Autostrade is predominantly owned by Atlantia, although in August 2017 it sold a 5 percent stake to a consortium comprising Allianz, EDF Invest and DIF Capital Partners, as well as a further 5 percent to the China Silk Road Fund. Allianz declined to comment. DIF had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Atlantia has had its credit rating downgraded by S&P Global Ratings, Moody’s and Fitch since the decree was tabled. Yesterday, it named Carlo Bertazzo as its new chief executive. Its chairman Fabio Cerchiai said in a statement that he expressed hope in the new boss, notwithstanding the “delicate and difficult” situation in which the company had found itself.