Bailout or bust? Alitalia divides a nation, paralyzes Rome

Sat Apr 29, 2017 9:53am EDT
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By Giselda Vagnoni and Agnieszka Flak

ROME/MILAN (Reuters) - Italians are watching their flag carrier Alitalia go into yet another financial tailspin, and a growing number of them believe it would be better for the country if it crashed.

Outraged at repeated state bailouts that have cost taxpayers more than 7 billion euros ($7.62 billion) over a decade, many Italians are taking to social media to urge the government to resist the political temptation to rush to its rescue again.

    "In electoral terms, Alitalia is worth nothing. It's a dead weight," Angelino Ghinelli tweeted into a social media storm that has not gone unnoticed in Rome, where ministers have so far shown a strong reluctance to make any guarantees.

    "Enough with saving Alitalia," wrote Cinzia Briguglio, one of around 1,000 signatories to an online petition that sprang up this week, calling for the government not to get involved.

Consumer groups have also chimed in, including one, Codacons, which has threatened to ask Italy's Corte dei Conti, a judicial auditor, to examine any state bailout. The court can fine officials, including ministers, for wasting public funds.

An opinion poll published on Friday, four days after Alitalia workers voted to reject a union-backed rescue plan proposed by management, shows that 77 percent of Italians believed the airline should be left to fail.

"It's clear Italians are opposed to governments systematically running up deficits to deal with companies in crisis," Natascia Turato, director of Index Research, said in a comment the firm posted online, along with its poll results.

Without state support, Alitalia appears headed for collapse. Rival airlines show little interest in buying it, and creditors refuse to lend more money after workers last Monday voted down a rescue plan that would have cut 1,700 jobs and trimmed salaries.   Continued...

FILE PHOTO: An airplane of Alitalia is seen at the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy, April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo