The Italian government has been censured by European anti-competition authorities for its "buy Italian" policies, as state-owned carrier Alitalia has been given another reprieve.

The European Commission has decided to refer Italy to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), accusing the Italian government of having a policy of awarding contracts for civil helicopters directly to Agusta, without international competition. The Commission says such direct awards violate European competition rules and cost Italian taxpayers a 30% premium on the acquisition of helicopters.

The Italian government was accused of a "buy Italian" policy after it failed to demonstrate a national security need in awarding contracts to Agusta for helicopters for government departments. In particular, the EC has referred Italy to the ECJ for the direct purchase from Agusta of AB412HPs for the forestry department.

Meanwhile, flag carrier Alitalia has been granted yet another reprieve, after the EC approved a government-guaranteed bridging loan. Following a meeting between transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio and an Italian delegation including the transport ministry and Alitalia's managing director, Giancarlo Cimoli, the Commission allowed the Italian Government to guarantee a €400 million ($495 million) emergency loan intended to help Alitalia in recover from its current financial troubles, after leading Italian and foreign banks refused to lend the troubled carrier any further funds.

To obtain the EC go-ahead, the Italian government committed itself to significantly reducing its participation in the airline, from 62% to under 50%, within a year, and will not provide any state aid to the carrier. Alitalia will not be able to increase the size of its fleet.

Source: Flight International