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Officials of Italy's ruling parties to meet over motorway concession decree

By Giuseppe Fonte
FILE PHOTO: General view of Morandi Bridge, before controlled explosions will demolish two of its pylons almost one year since a section of the viaduct collapsed killing 43 people, in Genoa

By Giuseppe Fonte

ROME (Reuters) - Top officials in Italy's ruling coalition will meet on Monday to try to resolve a dispute over plans to make it easier to revoke Atlantia's motorway concession following the deadly collapse of a bridge in Genoa, a government source said.

Shares in Atlantia <ATL.MI>, which is controlled by the Benetton family, fell 4.2% by 1309 GMT after a cabinet meeting on Saturday provisionally approved a draft decree but left key details to be ironed out.

Atlantia, which owns Italy's biggest motorway operator Autostrade per l'Italia (ASPI), has been in the government's cross-hairs since a bridge collapsed on a busy motorway in August 2018, killing 43 people.

With more than 70 former and current employees at the company and its subsidiaries under investigation in relation to the Genoa disaster, the ruling anti-establishment 5-Star Movement has repeatedly called for the company to be stripped of its motorway concession.

Proceeds from the concession account for around one third of Atlantia's core profits and guarantee several billions of debt issued by Autostrade.

On Saturday, the cabinet failed to agree on the decree due to divergences between the 5-Star Movement and its centre-left coalition partners, the Democratic Party (PD) and Italia Viva (IV).


CONTROVERSIAL RULE

A minister for the PD party, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the decree was intended to force Autostrade to accept a revision of the concession, which expires in 2038.

Italia Viva opposes the scheme, saying it may reduce foreign investors' confidence in Italy.

A government source said parties in the ruling coalition were expected to meet in the late afternoon.

The decree says that state-owned company ANAS will temporarily manage motorways if an operator has its concession revoked, a draft document seen by Reuters shows.

It also considerably reduces the amounts the government must pay to a toll road company if a concession is revoked due to shortcomings on the part of the operator.

In a statement issued late on Sunday, Autostrade said the new norm risked violating the Italian constitution, adding that it might take legal steps to protect itself.

Should the government approve the new norm, the company would consider the concession terminated and would ask for multi-billion-euro compensation, Autostrade said in a letter sent to the transport and economy ministries and to the prime minister.


(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte; Editing by Gareth Jones)