In the archive of the Ansaldo Foundation there is a documentary from 1962 entitled Planet steel. It tells, in Italy of the economic miracle, the birth of the Italsider factory in Taranto, the same one that is now slowly dying out in the general distraction. The author Emilio Marsili, the text even by Dino Buzzati and read, with a deep and theatrical voice, by Arnoldo Fo. You can immediately see the bulldozers at work to level the land on which a plant larger than the city will be built. They overwhelm everything. A devastation.
When Plato and Archimedes lived – writes Buzzati and reads Fo – this olive tree was already born, after two thousand years uprooted by an infernal force. Uprooted. Such a beginning, sixty years later, just thinking about everything that was said to oppose the TAP gas pipeline in Melendugno, which then sacrificed very few plants and is not even visible, it would not only be unthinkable but would provoke a vehement and indignant reaction. The olive trees, the sun and the cicadas represented sleep, abandonment, resignation and misery and instead here men have built an immense cathedral, of metal and glass, to unleash within it the fiery monster that is called steel and means life. Life, you got it right.
ORtoday, if it were said on the contrary that that steel was death, no one would have any objections. Yet, that was an Italy that we are nostalgic for today, which still fuels our well-being. Even if we forgot it. Buzzati’s somewhat emphatic prose (even adults doze sometimes) was the product of his time but also of the desire, then still perceived as a great opportunity in history, to free himself from centuries of hunger, poverty and disease. And the first workers hired at Italsider – now only former or rather Acciaierie d’Italia – interviewed in the offending documentary, were completely aware of this. And proud. Today, on the contrary, in Taranto there is anger, disillusionment and pessimism.
And above all, too much redundancy: 3 thousand employees, of which 2 thousand in Taranto alone, out of just over 10 thousand in total. It was certainly exaggerated then, but perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we are not exaggerating even today in believing – as Apulian institutions, local communities, exponents of various national parties seem certain – that that fiery monster can stop and even disappear without serious consequences on a A country that owes its wealth to industry, but no longer wants to see it on its doorstep?
Of course, health had less value sixty years ago, the environment counted for nothing. Taranto had a thousand reasons to rebel against years of guilty neglect – of the public shareholder first and then of the private one – but do we really think that an industrial country can easily do without the only large steel center for the production of primary steel (the rest made by transformers, very good but such)? And that the solution is to depend on imports from China or South Korea (Ukraine has temporarily failed) which produce it while polluting much more? Really not possible — given the amount of investments in decarbonisation (5.5 billion in ten years) partly already made in Taranto (1.3 billion plus 500 million by Ilva in extraordinary administration), to a greater extent than in other parts of the world — bring together an essential industry for the country and the highest possible and reasonable degree of environmental protection?
The meeting of Acciaierie d’Italia Holding is scheduled for next Thursday and perhaps one of the greatest mysteries of this dramatic story will be solved. What ArcelorMittal really wants to dothe largest steel producer in the world which has 62% of the shares, while 38% belongs to Invitalia, or rather to the State? The managing director, Lucia Morselli – appointed by the Indian partner – quantified the group’s immediate financial needs at 320 million after having unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a credit line from the banking system. Acciaierie d’Italia asks for resources to finance the activity, that is the working capital, not to repay the debts it does not have, but it is not, as they say with a horrible term, bankable. Therefore, the shareholders have to put in the money. Invitalia had been authorized, with the decree converted into law last March, to disburse 680 million which evidently was not enough.
The group does not own the plants, it rents them from the extraordinary administration Ilva for 25 million per quarter. The raw material must be paid for promptly. It has a huge debt for gas supplies. Snam Rete Gas threatened to interrupt them at the beginning of last month. The Regional Administrative Court of Lombardy granted an extension until January 10, 2024. The curiosity is that Invitalia’s public money ends up going to a public company (Snam) in an infernal game of spin. Production this year will not exceed three million tons. The facilities could easily do six.
The publicly appointed president Franco Bernab announced his resignation some time ago. He froze them under pressure from the government. He doesn’t want to remain in absolute uncertainty in a situation that reminds him of the chaos at Enimont. The Indian group was helped, in cultivating its reluctance, by the wavering attitude of the various governments that followed in the management of the dossier as well as by the local opposition. The rescue of Acciaierie d’Italia among the main concerns of Raffaele Fitto, now Minister for European Affairs, former president of the Puglia Region. With the so-called Save Infractions law decree it was established that the assets company can be sold even under seizure regime and that any confiscation does not hinder production.
But if the commissioners don’t move everything remains on paper. Around 2.3 billion of the European RePower have been putavailable to facilitate the decarbonisation process. Electric furnaces, necessary to reduce emissions, suffer from the difficulties of finding pre-reduced iron and the inevitable causes of suppliers waiting to be paid for years. Dense took over the management of the delicate dossier from the Minister of Business and Made in Italy, Adolfo Urso, who was on a clear collision course with the majority shareholder. But it was in fact denied by Invitalia which challenged an agreement he signed with ArcelorMittal for breach of the shareholders’ agreements. Another paradoxical merry-go-round. The Indians look on in perplexity. Who decides? Why should we invest further in a system that we don’t own?
The judicial saga
There is no level of jurisdiction, civil, criminal, tax, administrative, national and community, that has not dealt with – after the sensational seizure of the plants eleven years ago – the former Ilva of Taranto, with an exclusive benefit for an infinite number of various lawyers and consultants. Only the European Court of Justice was missing but it was recently involved – as Domenico Palmiotti promptly recalled on Sun 24 Hours — as a consequence of a class action promoted by a group of parents from Taranto at the Court of Milan with the request, due to environmental and health damage, to stop the factory. The Luxembourg Court will have to rule on a possible violation of Community law.
In the meantime, the mayor of the city, Rinaldo Melucci, has asked the TAR of Lecce for a suspension in the case on the shutdown of the plants due to benzene emissions. The criminal shield initially granted to the administrators and revoked in 2019 – when the Five Star Movement was in government (Puglia their Vendée) – has been restored by the current government. ArcelorMittal, in the end, has nothing to lose. It has long since deconsolidated the Italian subsidiary it purchased to remove it above all from its direct competitors, in particular the Indians of Jindal. The country, on the contrary, has everything to lose. Even if many delude themselves, particularly in Puglia, that this is not the case.
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Nov 21, 2023
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