ROME, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Italy's on-again, off-again support for the controversial high-speed rail link between the Italian city of Turin and Lyon in France is back on, after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte threw his weight behind the project.
The 270-km rail link through the Alps mountain range has been a source of contention in the Conte government, with the nationalist, anti-migrant League in support of the project and the anti-establishment, populist Five-Star Movement opposed.
Conte, who is formally not a member of either party, was undecided before the European Union reportedly increased its financial support of the project to 55 percent of the total bill, up from 40 percent. The estimated price tag for the project is 25 billion euros (27.9 billion U.S. dollars).
The TAV project -- the name stands for "Treno di Alta Velocita," Italian for "High-Speed Train" -- includes a 58-km tunnel through the Alps, potentially among the longest tunnels in the world when completed. It will speed up and strengthen ties between industrial centers on either side of the Italian-French border, reducing fuel costs and increasing efficiency.
"This is an extremely important milestone for Italy, not just because it will be easier and faster to move products and people between Italy and France but also because it will show that Italy is again a reliable partner when it comes to ambitious infrastructure projects," Stefano Cianciotta, president of the National Observatory on Infrastructure for Confassociazioni, a federation of professional associations, told Xinhua.
Cianciotta said Italy has seen a virtual halt in the number of large, state-funded infrastructure projects since the country emerged from the "clean hands" bribery and corruption scandals of the early 1990s.
"After the 'clean hands' scandals, few people trusted the government to carry out big projects like this without corruption," Cianciotta said. "The TAV project will open the door to other major infrastructure projects. It's an important new phase for Italy. If this project had closed for good it would have been a very bad sign."
The Five-Star Movement's opposition to the project is based in part on environmental worries and in part based on a belief that the history of corruption and graft did not end with the mass convictions of political figures after the 'clean hands' scandals.
The TAV project has sparked political protests and online petitions calling for its once-for-all closedown.
According to Luca Giunti, and environmentalist and co-author of "Tav No Tav," a book critical of the project, Conte's new support for the project does not mean it will move forward without a hitch.
"The 15-year history of the TAV project has been a series of stops and starts," Giunti said in an interview. "I don't think it should be built but I'm not worried about the latest developments. I think it will stall again. The project is too ambitious, it doesn't have enough popular support, and the benefits are too small for the amount of money involved. It's too flawed and the idea should be scrapped before we spend another euro."