In the past, Italy has been held back by the absence of a comprehensive investment programme and an unstable political landscape that prevented the domestic project cargo market from reaching its potential. Now it seems the shackles have been removed, with government spending on the up under the stewardship of a level- headed leader.

When asked about notable projects coming up in Italy, Fortune International Transport’s managing director Paolo Federici summed it up nicely: “Frankly speaking, there are too many to list.” He referenced the huge financial support obtained from the EU to develop the logistics sector – including ports, airports, roads and railways – which he believes will encourage industry to grow in a number of different fields.  

Wave of investment  

In past reports on the Italian project logistics market, HLPFI noted that a lack of initiatives from the Italian government to spur on investment held back what could be a thriving market. However, the tide is now turning with a wave of infrastructure investment plans being rolled out to boost post-pandemic recovery. In Italy, this is seen in the Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza (PNRR). This investment vehicle is being used to allocate Next Generation EU funds that Italy received from Brussels. 

Thanks to the massive investments the Italian government is making under the PNRR, the domestic market is witnessing a resurgence of activity. The investments have also turned the market into one of the most important for Webuild, the Italian construction group that generates most of its business abroad. Pietro Salini, ceo of Webuild, said: “Today, Webuild is working on 27 important infrastructure projects for the relaunch of the construction sector together with a supply chain of more than 7,000 companies, which indicates what a big opportunity the PNRR represents.” The south will benefit particularly from the PNRR, since it has suffered from a lack of investment in infrastructure for decades. 

A potential pinch-point for that progress, however, is the strict timeframe that projects under the PNRR need to adhere to. There is nevertheless the opportunity to implement long-term structural reforms to improve the country’s competitiveness.  

Massimo Ferrari, Webuild general manager, explained: “The projects that fall under the PNRR must be completed by 2026. By Italian standards, that would be completing something in record time. We need to have an approval process that is fast and makes good use of a new model for private and public collaboration, a model that was tested for the Genova-San Giorgio Bridge, built by Webuild.”  

Ferrari said the model – known as the Genoa Model – showed how stakeholders working towards a common objective were able to complete projects on time without wasting money, while creating jobs and boosting economic development. “We hope that the financial system will continue to support the sector, especially when it comes to the system of guarantees. It would be useful to have a joint working group to include the public institutions, contractors, banks and insurers to deal with the limits that exist today and that prevent the plan’s quick implementation.”  

High-speed rail investment  

Of note are the planned investments in Italy’s high-speed rail infrastructure. Spanning most of the peninsula, some of the main lines under construction include: Fortezza-Verona, Brescia-Verona-Padua, Genoa-Milan and Naples-Bari. In Sicily, work is under way on a high-capacity railway between Palermo and Catania.  

Another boost for the Italian projects sector has come from the leadership of Mario Draghi, who stepped up as prime minister during February 2021. Since he took office, there has been a simplification of rules and procedures for authorising new projects. Officials estimate that the time taken to obtain a permit for an infrastructure project could be cut from 1,200 to 270 days.  

Fortune’s Federici added: “Thanks to Draghi, Italy has gained a reputation on the global market and our GDP has increased during 2021 – more than expected. [His leadership] proves that when we have political stability, we can be an important country for investors.”  

Roberto Benvenuti, head of industrial projects division and member of the board of Iscotrans, echoed this sentiment: “With Draghi, we finally experienced a feeling of stability we were not used to. He made politicians agree on how to invest the EU recovery funds. This gives a push to existing projects and a stimulus to start new ones.”  

The stability means “an injection of confidence” in the market, added Giovanni Marraffa, project manager of exceptional transport and lifting provider Marraffa, with significant repercussions in the various sectors of the economy.  

For Marraffa, “Draghi’s chairmanship of the government means that Italy has the right man in the right place”.  

His company has been engaged in the construction of a major energy infrastructure project – the first offshore wind farm in Italy in the Mar Grande in the Gulf of Taranto. It was tasked with the onshore handling activities to support the assembly of the wind farm components. “The offshore wind farm will consist of 10 turbines with a total capacity of 30 MW,” explained Marraffa. It also represents a step forward by Italy in its energy transition. “[The project is] in line with the objectives of the new National Energy Plan (Pniec), which foresees Italy having 114 GW of energy from renewable sources by 2030. The city of Taranto will thus become the starting point for the clean and sustainable energy of the future, thanks to favourable natural conditions that exploit the wind and sea,” he added.  

Energy transition  

Stefano Balli, ceo of Fracht Italia, commented on the energy transition: “Our country is following the EU guidelines. The first step is to shut down the coal-fired power plants and to replace them with the gas power plants. The second step will be to install solar plants and wind farms. Also, nuclear power is an important source of low-carbon energy to produce electricity.”  

On that last point, he noted the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) – the biggest and most ambitious attempt yet to harness the energy from nuclear fusion rather than fission – which is taking place in Saint-Paul-lez- Durance, France, but which will require some significant shipments out of Italy, including the vacuum vessel.

Read the full report from HLPFI’s March/April 2022 edition here.