Italy pins hopes on Milan Expo after corruption, delays

Sun Apr 12, 2015 12:25pm EDT
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By James Mackenzie

MILAN (Reuters) - Three weeks before the Milan Expo opens on May 1, the site of the showpiece event is still a mass of trucks raising dust and workers in hard hats racing to finish building after delays, graft and cost overruns.

Italy has had four different governments in the seven years since Milan was chosen to follow the 2010 Shanghai Expo and has undergone its most severe economic crisis since World War Two.

But 40-year-old Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is counting on the event to reinforce fragile signs of recovery and help his drive to put a more modern face on Italy after the years of recession.

Officials are counting on some 20 million visitors to the six month-long exhibition of products and technologies from around the world. They hope it will bring in 10 billion euros ($10.75 billion), half of it from foreign visitors.

Some 9 million tickets have already been sold, a third of them outside Italy, for an event seeking to broaden its appeal with interactive exhibits such as a supermarket of the future, cultural events and shows at an arena and an artificial lake.

"Expo will be the litmus test for the great ambitions which Italy has," Renzi said in a speech in Milan last month to promote the event. "With the Expo, we'll be able to see what Italy will be in the coming years."

Intended as a celebration of Milan's openness to the world and an exploration of new approaches to sustainable food, the event has so far stood out for the chronic corruption and waste that have blighted public works projects in Italy for decades.

Several top officials, including the Expo's former public procurement manager, were arrested last year and the whole event was placed under the oversight of the national anti-bribery authority in a bid to ensure transparency.   Continued...

Workers stand near the 37-meter "The Tree of Life" at the Expo 2015 work site near Milan April 3, 2015. REUTERS/ Giorgio Perottino