Rome renews bid to salvage Alitalia

 

The Italian government plans to present new proposals to Air France-KLM next week in a bid to salvage the European giant's offer to take over the failing Alitalia, a top official said on Thursday, according to media reports.

 

"We will present a plan that might persuade Air France next week," said government under-secretary Enrico Letta during a meeting with the unions representing Alitalia's workforce, Italian news agencies reported.

 

"The door can reopen with Air France-KLM. We are in a china shop, and the slightest false move could ruin everything," he warned earlier.

 

The government would make informal contacts initially and then a formal approach "to get Air France to return (to the negotiating table) next week," Letta said.

 

"This second and last chance must become concrete over the next days and far from the toxicity of the electoral campaign that has so damaged the company," Letta told the unions in a speech whose text was released by the prime minister's office.

 

The plight of the airline, which is losing about €1 million ($1.6 million; Dh5.9 million) a day, has been a central issue in an otherwise lacklustre campaign ahead of elections on Sunday and Monday.

 

Conservative candidate Silvio Berlusconi has repeatedly insisted that an all-Italian alternative to the Air France-KLM takeover is possible.

 

Alitalia, which is rapidly running out of cash on hand, faces almost certain bankruptcy if the European giant does not come back to the table.

 

Tense negotiations ended dramatically last week when Air France-KLM chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta withdrew the airline's offer after the unions asked that Alitalia conserve all of its operations.

 

Alitalia chairman Maurizio Prato resigned in frustration.

 

On Monday, Air France-KLM said its offer for Alitalia was the only one capable of returning the struggling airline to profitable growth and it was now up to the unions and workers to decide the way forward.

 

The hard-bargaining unions appeared ready to soften their positions this week.

 

Raffaele Bonnani, head of the CISL union, asserted on Monday that Spinetta "did not sever contact," telling the daily La Repubblica: "We are only at the start of negotiations."

 

Another union, the FILT-CGIL, said in a statement that it did not rule out new talks.

 

As the government met with the unions on Thursday, hundreds of Alitalia workers staged a protest outside parliament in Rome, the ANSA news agency reported.

 

Police said the protesters numbered between 500 and 600, ANSA said, adding that many were employees of the ground services unit AZ Servizi, which is to be shut down in eight years.

 

Pilots, who face some 500 layoffs, were also among the demonstrators, wearing their uniforms, ANSA said.

 

Alitalia's board said it had some €170 million in the bank as of the end of March.

 

The outgoing centre-left government of Romano Prodi has been struggling to sell the government's 49.9-per cent stake in the loss-making company before the elections. (AFP)

 
 
 
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