News analysis: Five-Star Movement's failed effort to block TAV project to bring political consequences, say experts

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ROME, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- It is full steam ahead for the controversial high-speed train project TAV and analysts said the project could take the reputation of the populist Five-Star Movement as powerful opposition force with it.

The Five-Star Movement, one of the two members of the coalition backing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, has fiercely opposed the completion of the TAV project, noting that money would be better spent on upgrading existing infrastructure. It said the project could damage environment and will be hindered by corrupt contractors.

The Five-Star Movement's coalition partner, the nationalist, anti-migrant League, supports the 25-billion-euro (28 billion-U.S.-dollar) TAV project, which stands for "Treno di Alta Velocita," Italian for "High-Speed Train", and will link Turin of Italy to Lyon in France.

Most opposition parties favor the plan as well, saying it will help promote economic growth.

The Five-Star Movement pulled out all the stops on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to block the project in the Senate. But the motion failed by a margin of 181 votes to 110. A subsequent motion from the Democratic Party, the main opposition party, in favor of the TAV project passed by a similar margin, 180 votes to 109.

The two votes likely represent the last major hurdle for the project, analysts said.

"This was an issue the Five-Star Movement cared about deeply and even though they are the largest party in parliament, they failed to even come close to blocking it," Gian Franco Gallo, a political affairs analyst with ABS Securities, an investment bank, told Xinhua.

"The two parties (the Five-Star Movement and the League) are already on opposite sides of many issues," Gallo said. "The vote does not bode well for the Five-Star Movement's ability to successfully push for its priorities."

The TAV project has gone through a long series of stops and starts in recent years. Its fortunes may have turned after Conte, who had been on the fence about the plan, received assurances that the European Union would pick up 55 percent of the total bill for the project, up from 40 percent previously. The difference will be paid by Italy and France.

According to Stefano Cianciotta, president of the national observatory on infrastructure for Confassociazioni, a federation of professional associations, completing the TAV project is essential for Italy -- not only because it will make it cheaper and faster to move products between Turin and Lyon but also because it "show that Italy is again a reliable partner when it comes to ambitious infrastructure projects," Cianciotta said in an interview.

The 270-kilometer rail link through the Alps mountain range has been a source of contention in Italy for years. Despite the recent turn of fortune for the plan, it still sparks protests from groups worried about environmental impacts and the project's over-sized price tag. Some opposition groups also worry about the long-term safety of the 58-kilometer tunnel through the Alps, which could be the longest tunnel in the world when completed.

Plans for a high-speed rail link between Turin and Lyon were first floated 30 years ago. When it is finally completed it will be part of a sprawling high-speed rail network crisscrossing Europe as a way to bring down transportation costs, reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and draw European Union members closer together. Enditem

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