Alitalia unions urge Italy's government to desert EU talks over revamp

MILAN, April 13 (Reuters) - Alitalia trade union representatives on Tuesday urged Italy’s government to desert negotiations with Brussels over the airline’s revamp, saying the European Commission is favouring foreign carriers over the group.

Rome has been in negotiations with the European Union’s executive arm for months over Italy’s plan to restructure the airline through the launch of a new, state-owned company called ITA.

The EU has asked for ITA to drop the Alitalia brand, give up as many as half of its slots at Milan city airport, and start without the handling and maintenance divisions of the old carrier, sources had said.

Speaking before the Italian parliament, the head of the UILT trade union Claudio Tarlazzi rejected the idea that the new company could accept even some of these remedies.

“We must realise that the EU is favouring rival companies, and negotiations (with Brussels) must be stopped and the company created with all the necessary assets,” Tarlazzi told the members of two parliamentary committees holding a joint hearing.

Criticism over the EU’s handling of Alitalia peaked last week, when Brussels approved the French government’s contribution to 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion) in support for Air France KLM in return for a 4% reduction in its take-off and landing slots at Paris-Orly airport.

ITA had been supposed to buy the assets of the old Alitalia using part of 3 billion euros injected by the government, and airport slots at Linate are considered a key asset for a future partnership for the carrier.

The European Commission was not immediately available for comment.

Representatives of three other trade unions attending the hearing agreed with Tarlazzi and said ITA should start with double the planned fleet.

“The idea that Alitalia’s brand could go to a rival carrier is crazy,” said Edoardo Rixi, one of the members of the lower house transport committee attending the hearing.

Alitalia has posted an operating loss every year since 2012, and has also suffered along with the rest of the air sector from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Italian carrier was put into administration in 2017, following three reorganisation attempts in the nine years since its privatisation.

$1 = 0.8409 euros Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by Jan Harvey