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Italy's Finance Minister tightens grip on nominations for top jobs at state-backed firms

By Giuseppe Fonte

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's Economy Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti is working on an internal directive stressing that the main steps for an imminent round of appointments to top state-controlled firms must pass through his office, political sources said.

The move emphasises efforts by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's right-wing government to curtail the role of senior unelected technicians who wield power behind the scenes.

A number of senior jobs will be up for grabs in the coming weeks, including seats on the boards of state-controlled energy groups ENI and Enel, bailed out bank MPS and defence group Leonardo.

Picking chairmen and CEOs of state-run firms is a complex procedure, in which the influential Treasury department within the economy ministry has traditionally had a major say.

A draft of the directive seen by Reuters showed that Giorgetti, a career politician from the co-ruling League party, wanted to handle the appointment procedures together with his closest aides.

Under the new provisions, the Treasury department will have to transmit to Giorgetti through his direct staff the list of all expiring positions, while also publishing them on the ministry website.

Moreover, the directive emphasises that the department must examine potential candidates on the basis of indications received from the minister.

As part of a drive to put their stamp on key positions within the state bureaucracy, Giorgetti and Meloni this month ousted the powerful director general of the Treasury Alessandro Rivera, appointing veteran economist Riccardo Barbieri in his place.

Giorgetti is now drafting a plan to split the Treasury into two units, creating a department to manage state-owned firms.

Separate sources said Meloni's office was pushing to appoint ITA Airways Chairman Antonino Turicchi, a former Treasury official historically close to the Italian right-wing bloc, as director general of the newly created department.

However, the nomination process in Italy is traditionally the subject of intense political horse trading because of their size and importance. Talks usually go down to the wire and can change unexpectedly.

Last year Turicchi had been indicated by government representatives as Meloni's preferred candidate to replace Rivera, before the economy minister proposed Barbieri.

Giorgetti is also due to decide by the end of February whether to confirm or remove some key Treasury officials in charge of managing, among other things, European relations, financial regulation and state intervention on the economy, such as public guarantees on banking loans.

(Editing by Keith Weir)