Italy's Venezuelan Moment
You may remember that a bridge collapsed in Italy, near Genoa, in 2018. The bridge was managed by a private company, Autostrade per l’Italia. An investigation to ascertain who is responsible is now going on (the company clearly has its fair share of guilt, but managing such an infrastructure is a highly regulated and controlled business, so the controllers may have done wrong, too). Yet the Italian government, instead of waiting to find out who deserves blame for the bridge collapse, started a crusade against the controlling shareholder to oust them from the company.
In this piece for the Wall Street Journal, I argue that such a “campaign is reminiscent of Latin American eat-the-rich regimes”. Not so much for the goal, but for the method:
In January, Italy’s parliament enacted so-called Milleproroghe legislation, introducing unilateral amendments to motorway contracts. Changes included new rules for terminating the concession and new criteria for compensation if the contract was terminated early. These moves would be met by universal Western opprobrium if undertaken by, say, Viktor Orbán in Hungary.
Such a blatantly discretionary action was of course made possible by the circumstances of the bridge collapse. But I see more coming, as our government firmly believes in the vision of an “entrepreneurial state” and its patience with the idiosyncratic features and the leisurely pace of the rule of law is at a minimum.