Italy lower house votes to keep Ilva steel plant open

24 July 2015

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi won backing in parliament on Thursday to keep open the scandal-hit Ilva steel plant against the will of local magistrates in southern Italy who say it is unsafe.

The Ilva steelworks in the city of Taranto has Europe's largest output capacity at 11 million tonnes. It is producing much less than that after being put under special administration in 2013 and is losing tens of millions of euros a month.

The Chamber of Deputies voted in a confidence vote by 355 to 188 in favour of the bill, which would block an order by magistrates to shut down a furnace after a worker died there. That would have left the factory with only one functioning furnace out of five.

Having passed the confidence vote, on which in theory the survival of the government hinged, the bill is highly likely to be approved when the lower house holds a formal vote, expected on Friday. From there it will move to the Senate (upper house) for a reading.

Renzi's government took control of Ilva in January to save some 16,000 jobs after more than two years of uncertainty stemming from accusations that toxic emissions were causing cancer among nearby residents.

Also on Thursday, a judge in Taranto ordered 44 people and three companies to stand trial for causing an environmental disaster at the plant.

The bill would prevent companies considered of strategic importance from being seized by magistrates on safety grounds. It also included measures to help banks offload bad loans.

Renzi has resorted several times to confidence votes during his 18-month premiership to push through controversial measures and avoid a slew of amendments from the opposition and rebels within his own party.