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Renzi vows to act as EU chastises Italy over Pompeii

'Get over ideological refusal to involve private sector'

05 March, 18:58
Renzi vows to act as EU chastises Italy over Pompeii (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Rome, March 5 - Premier Matteo Renzi on Wednesday vowed action to save Pompeii after UNESCO warned it could collapse completely without "extraordinary measures" and the EU called for urgent action. Renzi said Italy should "get over an ideological refusal" to involve the private sector in cultural projects after recent collapses led the government to earmark two million euros for urgent repairs Tuesday.

Renzi said Culture Minister Dario Franceschini "intervened promptly" by allocating the money after the latest three in a long string of rain-linked collapses at the 2,000-year-old ancient Roman site near Naples, the world's most famous open-air museum and one of Italy's biggest tourist attractions.

"But it is unacceptable that people should continue to pretend nothing is happening if, while The Great Beauty wins the Oscar, there is a wall in Pompeii that falls down", said Renzi.

"Italy is the country of culture and so I challenge entrepreneurs: what are you waiting for? "We have to get over an ideological refusal about the intervention of (the) private (sector), as if only public intervention could ensure our cultural heritage is preserved," said Renzi, who has come to power on a fast-paced and radical reform agenda. "If the private sector can keep the wall up why not let it?", Italy's youngest premier said.

The head of Italy's powerful industrial confederation soon responded to Renzi's call.

"There are many people from business who have done their part," said Confindustria chief Giorgio Squinzi, recalling Tod's shoe company owner Diego Della Valle, who is funding a major restoration of the Colosseum. "We can certainly find the entrepreneurial will to safeguard (the cultural heritage of the country)," added Squinzi.

Della Valle's Colosseum project has been the only high-profile private-sector intervention on Italy's cultural heritage in recent years.

But the project has become bogged down in red tape and union opposition.

Italy's newly appointed superintendent for Pompeii and the related sites of Herculaneum and Stabiae, all buried by Vesuvius in 79 AD, asked for an extension to this year's deadline for spending 105 million euros of EU money to shore up the city miraculously preserved by ash.

"It's going to be hard to spend the EU's 105 million, we need an extension," said Massimo Osanna shortly after being installed.

"So far only 40 million have been allocated, and we'll need an extension to try to spend it all by the end of 2015.

"Even then it's going to be tough", he said.

Osanna also warned of a shortage of workers essential to maintenance such as builders, carpenters and scaffolding riggers. "Many of these have retired over the years and not been replaced," Osanna said, calling for 80 new hirings.

He said "architects and archaeologists have been hired to face the immediate emergency" after the three walls collapsed, the latest incidents in a long string of well-publicised structural cave-ins at Pompeii.

"But the work force lacks the vital lymph of younger workers," Osanna said. He said that because of a long hiring freeze and red tape, the average worker at the site was aged between 45 and 60.

"Unless the workforce is renewed, the problems won't be solved".

On Monday UNESCO said "the whole place may collapse unless extraordinary measures are taken".

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini on Tuesday allocated two million euros for emergency repairs.

There was however optimism that the so-called Great Pompei Project' would be completed on time next year.

"We can do it," Osanna said.

UNESCO in July gave Italy until December 31 to apply a series of upgrade measures or face having Pompeii removed from its prestigious list of World Heritage sites.

The measures included video surveillance of 50% of the area and a buffer zone around the site.

Rome implemented most of the measures and got an extended deadline for the others.

Heavy rain was blamed for a wall of a Roman-era shop collapsing in Pompeii on Monday, a day after two other precious parts of the ancient city - a wall at the Temple of Venus and another wall on a tomb in the famed necropolis of Porta Nocera - suffered serious damage from bad weather.

These followed a long and worrying catalogue of bits of Pompeii falling off.

In November 2010 the House of the Gladiators came down, prompting Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to say: "This is a disgrace for the whole of Italy". In February 2012 a piece of plaster came off the the Temple of Jupiter, one of Pompeii's main attractions.

Then, in September 2012, at the Villa of the Mysteries, an even more iconic building, a five-metre-long flying buttress gave in and went crashing to the ground.

Last November, finally, a wall in one of the ancient city's main thoroughfares, Via dell'Abbondanza, keeled over while another piece of decorative plaster, at the House of the Little Fountain, dropped from the ceiling. In December Italy named the former head of its prestigious art-theft unit to head up the ambitious Great Pompeii project.

Giovanni Nistri, a general in the paramilitary Carabinieri police who led Italy's cultural asset-protection division from 2007 to 2010, had "the right sensitivity for this job", then culture minister Massimo Bray said.

Pompeii has been plagued for decades by accusations of mismanagement, neglect and even infiltration by the local Camorra mafia.

INCREASE EFFORTS, EC SAYS.

The European Commission told Italy on Wednesday to increase efforts to prevent further damage to Pompeii. "Local, regional and national authorities must do more and work together to ensure that funds are used effectively and that Pompeii is saved for future generations," said Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou.

On Tuesday, European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn urged Italian authorities to take better care of the remains of the once-bustling Roman city.

But Hahn hailed Italy's new measures Wednesday.

"I welcome with great favour the very concrete measures announced yesterday by the culture minister (Dario Franceschini) to safeguard Pompeii," Hahn told ANSA.

"Our commitment remains firm and we are ready to consider new financing from the (regional) planning funding (earmarked) for 2014-2020," Hahn said.

The commissioner added that two thirds of the tenders for the Great Pompeii Project, worth some 73.8 million euros, "were under way or have already been adjudicated".

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