A US government plan to expand a strategically important airbase in Italy has brought relations between Rome and Washington under close scrutiny. The Pentagon wants to enlarge the Vicenza airbase near Venice. The site has been home to the US Southern European Task Force since 1951. Officials want to expand it to include the entire 173rd Airborne Brigade. The force is currently split between Italy and Germany.
“We won’t argue with the decision taken by the last Government”, said Prime Minister Romano Prodi.
Left-wingers in Prodi’s coalition opposed the plans while the Opposition said rejection would annoy the US and put jobs at risk.
Demonstrations both for and against the plans have taken place, and more are planned: “The future prosperity of our city should not be based around a single military base,” said one woman in Vicenza.
The Pentagon plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building new barracks at the base. The 2,750 personnel would be almost doubled.