Thursday, July 19, 2007

alitalia auction goes to . . . nobody

The auction to sell shares in Alitalia, the Italian national airline, has been called off after the only active bidder, Germany's Air One, pulled out of the race. Alitalia, a pleasant but perenially nonprofitable airline owing largely to inflated labor costs, will now have to look for another way out of its problems. Don't look to the Italian Government for rescue, either: the European Union has warned that too aggressive a subsidy will violate EU rules.

Alitalia's problems come in the midst of an already discouraging summer for Italian efforts to "normalize" the country and compete in the larger European market. Allegations that the security services kept tabs on magistrates and other public figures, reportedly providing the information to members of the previous (Berlusconi) Government, were another step in the wrong direction. The usual run of crimes and scandals, together with the perennial squabbling between political parties, have not helped.

One hopeful sign is the effort to combine a variety of left-leaning parties, including but not limited to the former communists (now clumsily labeled the Democrats of the Left), into a broad-based new alignment. The so-called Democratic Party--sound familiar?--has been holding meetings and conferences and is gearing up to elect its first leader later this year. A new label will not necessarily change things, but the movement confirms Italy's slow but steady lurching toward a two-party system and the regular alternation of power: changes that do not in themselves constitute normalcy but are a necessary precondition for it.


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