August 7, 2019 / 10:42 AM / 13 days ago

Italian Senate backs train link with France, widening coalition rift

ROME (Reuters) - The Italian Senate on Wednesday rejected a motion by one of the ruling coalition parties, the 5-Star Movement, to block an alpine rail link with France, paving the way for the long-contested project to continue.

Italy's Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is congratulated after the result of the vote on the future of a contested Alpine rail link meant to connect Turin with Lyon, at the Senate, in Rome, Italy, August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

The planned line, meant to connect the Italian city of Turin with Lyon in France, includes a 58-km (36-mile) tunnel through the Alps. It is fiercely opposed by 5-Star but supported by its coalition partner, the right-wing League, and by most other parties in parliament.

The upper house of parliament rejected the 5-Star’s motion by 181 votes to 110.

The 5-Star Movement is the largest party in parliament but it was outvoted by the combined forces of the League and opposition parties from the left and right.

A subsequent motion by the opposition Democratic Party, in favor of the TAV, was passed by 180 votes to 109.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said last month that new financial offers from the European Union and France had made the infrastructure, known as the TAV, less costly for Italy, and it would now cost more to block it than to complete it.

Italy then wrote to the European Union pledging to go ahead with it, according to the European Parliament president David Sassoli.

The TAV, which has been repeatedly held up by protests and bottlenecks since it was first planned some 30 years ago, is among a raft of issues that have divided the League and 5-Star in recent months, as the two parties have squabbled incessantly.

5-Star says tunneling through the Alps hurts the environment and the project is a waste of money that would be better spent on upgrading Italy’s existing transport network.

The League says it will create jobs and promote growth, and shifting freight from road to rail is environmentally friendly.

League leader Matteo Salvini said on Tuesday that tensions with 5-Star meant the government could soon collapse, and the parliamentary debate ahead of the Senate vote exposed the growing gulf between the two parties.

While 5-Star has accused the League of disloyalty by forming a block with the opposition, the rightist party said 5-Star would be to blame for any rupture in the coalition.

“Those who vote no today take the political responsibility for the choices which will follow in the coming days and months,” said the League’s Senate leader Massimiliano Romeo, in a thinly veiled threat to bring down the government.

Salvini and 5-Star Leader Luigi Di Maio both left the Senate after the vote without speaking to reporters.

Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Stephen Powell

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