(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte moved to settle a highly charged dispute over Autostrade Per l’Italia SpA’s toll-road concessions after marathon overnight talks.
The premier, locked in a long dispute over a 2018 bridge collapse in Genoa, has agreed to evaluate a new proposal by Autostrade -- owned by Atlantia SpA, which is controlled by the billionaire Benetton family -- after a seven-hour cabinet meeting that ended after 5 a.m. in Rome, according to a person familiar with the discussion, who asked not to be named before an official announcement. Ministers left without making any comment.
Conte, whose ruling coalition is split over how to deal with the Benettons, has threatened to pull the licenses from Autostrade unless the family fully exits the company. Late on Tuesday the family-owned firm presented an eleventh-hour offer to the government.
A draft of the proposal involved state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti taking a majority stake in Autostrade via a capital increase that would decrease the Benetton holding company Edizione Srl’s stake to about 10%, people familiar with the plan said earlier.
Afterward Autostrade would be spun off from Atlantia SpA and undertake an initial public offering, through which Edizione could sell off or further dilute its stake, the people said, adding that details were still being worked out. Edizione had no immediate comment.
The cabinet gave a mandate to the state lender to define the gradual exit of the Benettons, Ansa reported after the cabinet meeting. The finance and transport ministries would also sign a new deal on the toll-road concessions, it said.
The cabinet meeting was briefly interrupted before midnight as Conte viewed a first version of the new proposal as insufficient, an official said. The offer was improved in four different versions, Ansa newswire reported, citing government sources.
Read more - Why Italy’s Bridges Keep Collapsing: QuickTake
Coalition tensions are undermining Conte’s hold on the government. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement has insisted on revocation of the concessions or a full Benetton exit from Autostrade, while the center-left Democratic Party wants the state to take a stake in the company. The tussle has buffeted Atlantia shares.
Any solution requiring parliamentary approval would be a challenge for the premier. His government has a razor-thin majority in the Senate, and the junior coalition partner Italy Alive of ex-premier Matteo Renzi has objected to revocation. The opposition party Forza Italia of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, as well as independent lawmakers, may step in to support Conte.
First plucked from academic obscurity by Five Star for the premiership in 2018, Conte has come under increasing fire from allies in his second coalition who say he has been too slow to restart the economy crippled by a coronavirus lockdown and to resolve thorny issues including Autostrade.
Read More: Conte’s Chameleon Act Gives Him Staying Power in Italian Crisis
The Genoa disaster killed 43 people, with cars and trucks falling from the Morandi Bridge built in the 1960s onto rail tracks and streets below. A ministerial commission argued that Autostrade underestimated the deterioration of the structure. The company rebuffed those claims, saying it followed procedure and the law as its safety checks had triggered no alarms.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.