Matteo Salvini’s League party, the dominant force in Italy’s populist coalition, may oppose nationalization in principle, but it’s still backing a big role for the state in overhauling struggling airline Alitalia SpA, according to a government deputy minister.
“The League is against nationalization ideologically but here the state has a role to play—as long as the state money is repayable,” Dario Galli of the ministry for economic development said in an interview at his Rome office. “This is a situation in which there is an industrial sector but liquidity is lacking, so a state role is acceptable.”
As the former flagship carrier battles to avoid liquidation, Delta Air Lines Inc. and U.K. discounter EasyJet Plc may invest as much as 400 million euros ($452 million), according to people familiar with an initial draft of the plan. Delta and EasyJet may get up to 40 percent in a new company, the people said.
State rail operator Ferrovie dello Stato SpA, which heads a group of investors, may end up with about 30 percent of the company, with the Italian Treasury taking a minority stake. The size of that holding would depend on the level of involvement of other state-controlled companies, such as Poste Italiane SpA. The Treasury’s shareholding could be between 15 percent and 25 percent, one of the people said.
Efforts to salvage Alitalia are being spearheaded by Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the League’s partner in the fractious coalition. Di Maio, whose party has campaigned to save jobs at distressed companies across the country, is also minister for economic development.
“I imagine that in the end, people will ask not to repay the debt, which could be turned into a stake in the company,” said Galli, who declined to comment on the details of the rescue plan. “That depends on European Union rules of course.” Debt will not be carried over into the proposed new company, the people familiar said earlier this week.
“Alitalia needs an industrial partner which is involved in civil aviation but also increases economies of scale, reorganizing personnel and exploiting long-haul opportunities,” Galli said. Alitalia’s assets include its brand image, the domestic market and slots, especially for long-haul flights, he added.
Fellow Deputy Premier Salvini, who campaigned in last year’s general elections on the slogan “Italy First,” told RTL 102.5 radio Wednesday that his priority is getting people to Italy, in reply to a question on whether he agreed with the possibility of the state eventually owning 51 percent of the airline.
“What interests me is that people who want to get to Italy can get here, for us tourism is like oil for Saudi Arabia,” Salvini said. “I’m interested in people getting to Italy quickly, and that a flagship carrier is not sold or undersold to foreign companies who would of course then work in the interests of their countries.”
Finance Minister Giovanni Tria said last week that Alitalia’s business plan should reflect advantages for both “the future foreign partners and the country, while being fully compliant with European rules.” Tria said the Treasury would be ready to enter the new Alitalia if the business plan is “reliable and sustainable.”