Minister rebuts Fiat boss over 'impossible Italy'

But governor, industry leaders rally behind Marchionne

Minister rebuts Fiat boss over 'impossible Italy'

(By Emily Backus) Turin, July 31 - Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne's comments slamming industrial conditions in Italy sparked furor on Wednesday, with industry and regional leaders rallying to his defence, while Italy's labour minister countered him. Marchionne on a Tuesday conference call told analysts and media that the ''conditions in industrial Italy remain impossible'' and said Fiat could move manufacturing of new Alfa Romeo models outside of Italy. The governor of Piedmont, where Fiat was founded and it remains based, defended Marchionne and demanded clearer industrial policy from state government. ''Where is the government's industrial policy? How long do we have to wait to see something done? There is no more time,'' said Roberto Cota. ''Every day hundreds of businesses close down and go away, because they can't make it, because doing business here isn't competitive and often impossible,'' Cota added. The governor of the north-eastern Italian region of Veneto, Luca Zaia, also agreed with Marchionne, and accused Rome of ''sleeping'' while businesses fled to places where ''taxes are fair and (regulatory) obligations are human''. ''Marchionne is right. Italy has become incompatible with free enterprise,'' said Zaia. In Turin, the president of the metal mechanics company association AMMA also supported Marchionne. ''Fiat's reaction is justified,'' said Alberto Dal Poz. ''Industrial conditions in Italy are impossible not just for Fiat. Regulatory certainty is fundamental for all businesses. It's not about Fiat against FIOM, there's no need to resort to ideology,'' Dal Poz added, making reference to the left-wing FIOM trade union, which has clashed bitterly with Fiat several times in recent years and recently won a court ruling against Fiat. Italy's Constitutional Court ruled in favour of FIOM, the metalworkers' arm of Italy's biggest trade-union confederation CGIL, which petitioned against being excluded from Fiat's company union representation body (RSA) for not having signed labour agreements. Last week, Fiat warned that court ruling could have an impact ''on its industrial strategies in Italy''. Meanwhile, Italy's Labour Minister Enrico Giovannini said on Wednesday that he did not agree with Fiat's CEO that the country's industrial conditions were unfavorable. Many of Italy's companies are continuing to ''invest, grow, create jobs and profits, despite undeniable difficulties,'' Giovannini said during a radio interview. The chief of the Italian federation of industrialists Confindustria, Giorgio Squinzi, supported the minister's line that Italian businesses are indeed investing and striving for growth as they fought for economic recovery. But Squinzi also said the Fiat chief aimed to ''push'' the country in the ''right direction'' with yesterday's comments, and admitted Marchionne was correct that right now, in the absence of change in industrial relations, it is very difficult to continue to plan business activity in Italy. On the other side of the spectrum, the chief of Italian Communist party PRC, Paolo Ferrero, slammed the Italian labour minister for only ''disagreeing'' and not being harsh enough with Fiat. He even called on the government to nationalize the company, if necessary, to prevent it from transferring production abroad. ''After all the public money that were given to Fiat, this is the extremely bland position of the government? For Marchionne - let's remember, a manager paid more than 2,000 times a worker's wage - one needs to block the transfer of production, nationalizing the company if necessary,'' said Ferrero.

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