Italy's parliament is considering a law that will effectively allow the state to sell its environmental and artistic heritage. The law seems likely to be approved later this week, much to the dismay of environmental organizations.
The government's proposed law calls for the creation of two holding companies to manage the country's environmental and artistic treasures. The companies would be licensed to use Italy's heritage as collateral to obtain credits from banks or private lenders to fund major construction projects.
Environmentalists say the government is prepared to gamble Italy's spectacular natural heritage to finance environmentally controversial public works, such as dams, highway, and a long-delayed bridge connecting Sicily to the mainland.
Gaetano Benedetto is a spokesman for the Italian branch of the World Wildlife Fund, one of the organizations that is leading the fight against the proposed law. He said Italy's natural, historical, and artistic heritage must be safeguarded.
The Italian state, Mr. Benedetto said, has an immense heritage made up of properties and lands, like the coastline, the banks of rivers and lakes, the mountains and many forests. It is also made up of historic palazzi and buildings of great importance. This heritage, Mr. Benedetto adds, has an enormous value.
The World Wildlife Fund is concerned that Italy's wonders will be put on sale without the consent of the environment ministry. It fears that world-renowned monuments like the Coliseum and the Trevi Fountain in Rome could easily fall into the hands of unscrupulous entrepreneurs.
The World Wildlife Fund has urged the government to change the law so that the environment ministry is also fully involved. It has also asked the government to give public companies a right to buy before private companies.
Government members have made few comments on the new law. Environment Minister Altero Matteoli said Tuesday that for the peace of mind of Italians, the law should clearly set limits on what can be sold in order to preserve Italy's cultural, historical, and environmental heritage. But he defended the draft text saying that, as it stood, the law would not permit the sale of such treasures as the Coliseum or the Sardinian coastline.
The proposed law has been passed by the lower house of parliament and is being discussed in the upper house. A June 15 deadline has been set for the law to be approved by both houses of parliament, and opponents of the bill do not have enough votes to prevent its approval.