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Campania: Centre-left governor defends his record

December 17, 2009

by Guy Dinmore in Naples

Published: December 17 2009

In the cut and thrust of Italian politics, obituaries are already being prepared for Antonio Bassolino, the 67-year-old former communist who has dominated the scene in Naples since 1993 but does not intend to seek re-election next March.

One of the more charismatic but also controversial politicians in Italy, the centre-left governor of Campania has been a handy foil for Silvio Berlusconi, who exploited to the full the Naples refuse crisis of early 2008, making it the springboard for his successful national election comeback later that spring.

Rubbing salt in the wounds, Mr Berlusconi, returning for a third stint as prime minister, held his first cabinet meeting in Naples. Declaring a state of emergency, he dispatched several hundred troops to bring a sense of order to the streets and remove protesters blocking access to sites designated as giant refuse tips.

The dynamics behind that crisis are still debated. The centre-right government naturally lays the blame at the door of incompetent left-wing administrations at the city and regional level.

Mr Bassolino says the government’s rescue plan, led by Guido Bertolaso as the Rome-appointed emergency commissioner, was in fact his own, just that he did not have the authority to implement it. He blames resistance from the mafia known as the Camorra, who have financial interests in preventing efficient waste management, and the “no block” of national and local politicians, particularly mayors from both main parties.

“Judicial investigations are shedding more light into how the Camorra used the rubbish crisis to block and delay our garbage plan based on the separation of refuse, use of incinerators, plants for processing waste, and dumps,” Mr Bassolino says.

Mr Bassolino is currently a defendant in a trial involving charges of fraud in the allocation of state contracts for waste management. He denies the charges, which are not mafia-related.

The governor’s office replied in writing to questions from the Financial Times after Mr Bassolino said he was too busy to give media interviews.

Mr Bassolino made his mark in the early 1990s when, with the break-up of Italy’s established parties amid corruption scandals, he was sent to Naples to help the left regroup. He was elected mayor in 1993, defeating Alessandra Mussolini, grand-daughter of the late fascist dictator.

That period became known as the “renaissance” of Naples, in the clean-up of buildings and streets, and a campaign against the mafia and corruption. He was overwhelmingly re-elected in 1997 and then first ran for regional governor in 2000, winning re-election in 2005.

The centre-left Democratic party has yet to name its candidate for governor. Insiders say the candidate of “continuity” would be Ennio Cascetta, regional minister for transport, while Vincenzo De Luca, mayor of Salerno, is seen as a “clean break” with the era of Mr Bassolino.

Opinion polls cited by local reporters and politicians indicate Mr Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party will win back Campania, although it has yet to name its own candidate.

The governor defends his era in office and his decision to focus on large infrastructure projects, involving ports, railways and highways in an effort to establish the region as a logistics hub for north-south commerce within Italy and prepare for the Mediterranean free trade zone. Urban regeneration plans will create 40,000 jobs in construction, while funding for research and development is earmarked to exceed European averages.

The debt situation, he claims, is under control, although his office did not provide absolute figures.

The region has simplified business incentives, implemented tax credits to boost employment and set up three industrial tax-free zones. The lack of foreign investment, he says, is a national problem.

“Results have been achieved against organised crime,” he says. “We penetrated their strongholds and arrested numerous dangerous bosses and seized their assets. With determination and the collaboration of all institutions it will be possible to corner the Camorra.”

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