by Eric J. Lyman
ROME, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- A plan that would use troops from the Italian Army to help repair the pothole-filled streets of Rome is running into strong opposition from advocacy groups, analysts and from the Army itself.
The plan is the brainchild of Francesco Silvestri, one of the leading figures in the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, one of the two parties backing the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Silvestri said the plan, which would give the Army 240 million euros (275 million U.S. dollars) to repair around 200 kilometers (125 miles) of roads, would represent a "revolution for the city".
Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, also a member of the Five-Star Movement, has been criticized for her handling of the city's infrastructure. She welcomed Silvestri's proposal, telling reporters the idea would provide a "great victory for Romans."
But the support for the measure more or less ended there.
"It is an insult to the Army," Luca Marco Comellini, general secretary for the military's trade union, told Xinhua. "The Army's job is to protect the country's borders and react to emergency situations. The fact that the leadership of the city has been letting the roads deteriorate for years does not classify."
There are precedents for the Army to play a role in solving municipal emergencies. A decade ago, Italian troops were deployed to the streets of Naples to help resolve a situation that saw garbage piled high on the streets of the city, sparking a sanitation crisis. Often, when an Italian city suffers from an earthquake or floods, soldiers are used in rescue efforts.
According to Michele Nones, a scientific advisor specializing in military policy for think tank - the Institute for International Affairs, those situations differ from what is happening in Rome.
"The definition of an emergency situation is that there is no way to see the problem coming," Nones said in an interview. "In Rome, the problem has been building for years. Nobody is surprised the situation got to this point."
Roma fa Schifo (roughly translates to "Rome is horrible"), a movement that calls attention to the shortcomings of the city on social media and elsewhere, has repeatedly blasted the city's political leaders as being too short sighted with regard to maintaining the city's infrastructure. The group said the proposal to use the Army to improve the city's roads was inadequate because it did not include any aspects for the long-term maintenance and expansion of the city's road network.
"This is a fake emergency fabricated to justify using the Army," Massimiliano Tonelli, one of the directors of Roma fa Schifo, told Xinhua. "The problems aren't the potholes. The potholes are a symptom of a corrupt system that misspends money and doesn't plan adequately."
Comellini from the military trade union said Silvestri's proposal showed a lack of understanding of the essential role a well prepared and properly used military plays for a country.
"As a military veteran and someone who now works to protect the rights of soldiers, I find it embarrassing to know there are leaders who think the Army should be used like this," he said.