Italians back Turin-Lyon high-speed rail link amid signs of economic decline

Source: Xinhua| 2019-01-13 06:58:08|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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ROME, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- Tens of thousands of citizens and politicians took to the streets in the northern Italian city of Turin Saturday to show their support for the Turin-Lyon high-speed rail link, which would connect Italy's industrially developed northern regions to the rest of Europe.

The so-called TAV rail link is controversial because the populist Five Star Movement, which currently rules Italy in coalition with the rightwing League party, promised voters it would shut down the project, which is financed by France, Italy and the European Union (EU).

The League, which has its roots in the wealthy, industrialized North, is however in favor of the TAV and of infrastructure in general, as are the opposition center-left Democratic Party and the center-right Forza Italia party.

On Saturday, 100 mayors from cities and towns across the North, plus the Democratic Party governor of the Piedmont region Sergio Chiamparino, the Forza Italia governor of the Liguria region Giovanni Toti, and several League MPs, turned out along with some 40,000 citizens at the pro-TAV demonstration, RAI News 24 public broadcaster reported.

"Stopping the TAV in an Italy at risk of recession is madness," Forza Italia House whip Mariastella Gelmini told RAI News 24.

The opposing views over this project reflect deep-rooted differences within the ruling coalition, whose two components have divergent views on progress and economic development.

"Our two political forces have different beliefs," Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio admitted to RAI News 24, citing his Five Star Movement's flagship basic income for the poor and investments in carbon-free energy as ways to stoke Italy's stagnant economy.

Di Maio's fellow deputy prime minister and League chief, Matteo Salvini, told the same broadcaster that "if there is no political agreement on the TAV, we will call for a referendum -- clearly I would vote in favor of (the TAV), development, and growth."

Saturday's demonstration took place in the wake of the latest negative data out Friday from ISTAT, the national statistics institute, which showed the seasonally adjusted industrial production index declined by 1.6 percent in November 2018 compared to October, and by 2.6 percent compared to November 2017.

The statistics experts recorded steep drops year-on-year in intermediate goods (-5.3 percent), energy (-4.2 percent), and capital goods (-2 percent). Month-on-month, intermediate goods slumped by 2.4 percent, capital goods declined 1.7 percent and consumer products were down by 0.9 percent.

Year-on-year, in November 2018 there were declines in 13 out of 16 manufacturing sectors, including textiles, leather and apparel (-1 percent), machinery and equipment (-2.2 percent), transportation equipment (-4.3 percent), and wood, paper and printing (-10.4 percent).

In its monthly economic bulletin also out Friday, ISTAT said these numbers "confirm" Italy is having trouble "maintaining production levels" amid declining business and consumer confidence while "the international economy is showing clear signs of deceleration" due to uncertainties over Brexit and trade tensions.

"In December, the consumer confidence index marked a further decline across all components" from 114.7 to 113.1 points, ISTAT analysts wrote.

"In the same month, business confidence also worsened (from 101 to 99.8 points) across all economic sectors except retail," ISTAT said. "The forecast index marked a new downturn, suggesting the current weakness of the Italian economic cycle will continue."