ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s prime minister said on Tuesday the government expected to take a decision by Friday over an Italy-France high-speed rail link causing tensions within the populist coalition.
The project, known in Italy as ‘TAV’ and meant to connect the cities of Turin and Lyon, has been delayed for months because Italy’s ruling 5-Star Movement opposes it while coalition partner the League is in favour.
Stefano Buffagni, undersecretary of the environmentally friendly 5-Star, said on Tuesday his party was ready to quit government if the multi-billion-euro project went ahead.
Matteo Salvini, leader of the pro-business League, has said it would cost more to abandon the project than to do it.
“The decision will be taken in the national interest and for this reason the government cannot fall (over this)”, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters in Rome.
The tunnel has become a hot issue ahead of regional and European elections in May, which could reverse the balance of power within the nine-month-old coalition because polls foresee the League surging above the 5-Star.
In a sign of how divisive the issue is for the two coalition partners, Conte said the relevant ministers would gather at his office on Wednesday evening and “discussion will continue until a decision is taken”. The prime minister is not a member of either party but is closer to the 5-Star.
In December, Italy agreed with France to freeze new contracts on the 36-mile (58 km) Alpine tunnel until a panel of experts complete a cost-benefit analysis.
The project could lose up to 300 million euros of EU funds if tenders are not launched by the end of March, an EU official told Reuters.
On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron called on the Italian government to drop its objections to the project.
(Reporting by Alberto Sisto; Writing by Francesca Piscioneri and Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Valentina Za and Andrew Cawthorne)