Italy starts blame game after bridge collapse kills dozens

  • Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini was quick to turn the tragedy against the EU.
  • ""Italy must be able to spend the money needed to secure rivers, schools, highways and hospitals, without any foolish European constraints to prevent it."
  • The EU said it would not engage in any "political finger-pointing."

Italy is embroiled in a blame game after a freeway bridge collapsed on Tuesday in the city of Genoa, killing at least 39 people.

The country's political parties have apportioned blame for the disaster to, variously, previous governments, the European Union, the road management company and even the Mafia.

"All main political parties, particularly the government parties, are eager to score political points," Federico Santi, Europe analyst at Eurasia Group, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Thursday.

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa August 14, 2018. 
Reuters
The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa August 14, 2018. 

The current government, a coalition between the far-right Lega and the leftist Five-Star Movement (M5S), is nearing a critical point with its first budget in office due before mid-October. The financial plan will be critical to understanding the relationship between the two parties, how they might conflict with the EU, and whether investors think their plan is credible.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that his government would revoke road management company Autostrade's concession without waiting for the findings of a criminal investigation. Autostrade is responsible for 3,000 kilometers of toll roads in Italy, about half of the total amount, and has been under intense scrutiny after the incident in Genoa. The firm has been criticized for charging the highest tolls in Europe and yet failing to prevent the infrastructure collapse.

Autostrade said this week that quarterly checks had produced "adequate reassurances" on the state of the bridge. However, the company is reported to have started bids for improving the bridge in Genoa in April. Shares of its mother company Atlantia fell by as much as 23 percent on Thursday morning.

Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the Eurosceptic party Lega, was quick to turn the tragedy against the EU.

"Italy must be able to spend the money needed to secure rivers, schools, highways and hospitals, without any foolish European constraints to prevent it. First comes the security of the Italians," Salvini said on Twitter, criticizing fiscal rules applied across the EU to prevent countries from hitting excessive deficits.

Santi from Eurasia described Salvini's comments as "a stretch." "Blaming the EU for this is quite a stretch… Infrastructure spending is very much a remit of national governments still. In fact, the EU has been encouraging Italy to spend more in infrastructure and has made funds available," he told CNBC.

The EU said it would not engage in any "political finger-pointing."

Many commentators have pointed out that Lega has had a strong political influence in Genoa over the last few years.

Luigi di Maio, also deputy prime minister, but leader of the leftist M5S, said Thursday that the government needs to take over motorway concessions if the companies responsible don't perform their jobs adequately.

However, the same party said in 2013 that warnings of a collapse of the Genoa bridge were a children's "fairy story."

For now, Genoa and the northwestern region of Liguria have entered a 12-month state of emergency. The government said that an initial 5 million euros ($5.69 million) available from central funds would be deployed to the area. The bridge is a vital infrastructure for a port city like Genoa; it is an important trade route that links the Italian and the French Rivieras.

Many have also blamed the Mafia for the disaster. The group is known for blackmailing and for forcing its way into building big infrastructure points, though poorly.