Italian PM backs costly Alpine train link

Italian PM backs costly Alpine train link

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini appears prepared to avoid an early general election after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte backed his plan for the high-speed TAV Alpine rail link with France.

The other coalition leader, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, opposes the link.

Conte is also due to open an investigation into the Russian scandal involving Salvini and his Lega party.

It was reported earlier this month that one of his aides had allegedly endeavoured to strike an oil deal in a Moscow hotel that would have diverted Russian funds to the Lega to bolster its campaigning before May’s European elections.

There is no evidence that any deal was finalised but the allegations, which first emerged in February, led Italian prosecutors to open a probe and raised questions about the ties between the Lega and Moscow. Russia has systematically backed European populist parties in recent year.

“The TAV will be completed, as is right and as the League has always demanded,” Salvini said in a statement. “Pity about the wasted time, now let’s race to open up all the other blocked construction projects!” Conte, a former academic, said stopping the TAV project would cost more than going ahead. Five Star opposes the plan on environmental grounds.

Salvini has looked poised to call an early general elections this autumn after accusing his coalition partners of blocking his campaign promises. Conte’s backing for the project appears to be a political move to preserve the coalition.

The window for an early general election has now closed ahead of 2020 budget discussions.

Salvini has prospered politically since coming into government while Five Star appears to have been crushed as a political force.

Alfonso Giordano, a political scientist at Luiss University in Rome, said Conte’s involvement pointed to a power shift. He said: “In all these months, we’ve tended to think that Conte is simply a puppet between the two [coalition leaders].

“Finally, he is taking a more autonomous, authoritative position. He won’t attack Salvini, as that would be an attack against his government, but he will be seeking to reinforce his position.”

Conte will address parliament today (Wednesday) about whether Salvini solicited illegal funding from three Russians.

Salvini has denied he received any Russian financing.

The Lega has “never taken a ruble, a euro, a dollar or a liter of vodka in financing from Russia”, the anti-migrant populist said.

Alpine tunnelling is one of the great engineering achievements. Picture credit: Flickr

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