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Infrastructure for a better growth

Digital format, 06/10/2020, Aspenia

In the July 21 agreement guaranteeing the arrival of resources from Europe in response to the economic consequences of Covid-19, strategic sectors such as infrastructure are to receive significant support. Nevertheless, a series of both technical and institutional complexities threaten to slow the distribution of these funds. The controversy that has developed around a mechanism that hinges on the rule of law is paradigmatic: both the so-called “frugal four” countries and Finland consider the theme central, in contrast to the bitter opposition of countries such as Poland and Hungary. Added to this is the problem of raising the level of resources, precisely in light of which the Commission is being asked to compile a well-considered list.

On a positive note, there is the German presidency’s commitment to conclude the European multiyear financial plan by the end of October. For its part, the Italian government remains unwavering on a precise timeline: official presentation of the Recovery Fund plan by the end of the first quarter of 2021, and disbursement of the first 10% by the end of June 2021. There is optimism also regarding the fact that distribution will be able to rely on Europe’s already proven financial structure functionality.

Once resources have been ensured – 40% estimated to be earmarked for the green sector and 20% for the digital sector – a series of structural problems remain, mainly in terms of infrastructure. First of all, excessive government regulation and bureaucracy. Certainly, there is a problem of governance, and the Italian government intends to create a mechanism aimed at streamlining the various institutional steps toward accessing the Recovery Fund resources, as well as to establish a series of guidelines to facilitate support for investments, Industry 4.0 and the digitalization of the public administration.

Approximately 40 billion should be earmarked for the digital sector, and expected projects include broadband completion, acceleration of 5G, improved management of data centers and expansion of the Internet of Things. Prospects for the entire digital sector for 2021 are very positive and, as Covid-19 has shown, the further digitalization of schools and healthcare facilities remains strategic. Another obvious structural problem regards telecommunications: the sector’s hyper-competitiveness produces a scarcity of investment capital for the construction of new, or renovation of existing, infrastructure.

Energy is another strategic sector for which Recovery Fund resources will be earmarked, particularly in “green” infrastructure. Although Italy often lacks a common and strategic national vision, some positive aspects have emerged, such as the national energy and climate plan that has placed Italy in a position of sector leadership. The Recovery Fund offers a unique, and probably unrepeatable, opportunity to give additional impetus to developing a new organic and structural vision. Hydrogen, which has great market potential, could play a leading role in the energy of the future; it is also important to replicate the major advances made by Germany, France and The Netherlands. There are many expectations and much potential for this form of energy in the future. What Italian industry asks of the government is not only that it lend its concrete support to the development of the necessary infrastructure but also, and above all, to simplifying authorization procedures.