One of the causes that hinders the economic development of the country is our tendency to have to satisfy various interests and then dilute the impact of economic measures and interventions to make them so fragmented as to be useless for the country.
Often such measures are only even the wrong solution, the result of lack of analysis, but even in those rare cases where they are relevant measures, they are so little courageous, tenuous, little incisive and never contextualized in a systemic solution to lose their original potential utility.
Many economic initiatives have bipolar nonlinearities: either they work or they fail, without any middle ground and therefore require the complete realization of the projects, otherwise the complete zeroing of returns. Think of a highway designed for 100km: either it completes it all, or if only 10 kilometers remain unrealized, the return is not 90% of the expected, but 0%. They are interventions that however cost, therefore the debt rises, the GDP does not, and the debt/GDP ratio increases.
And so with this premise that I had hoped that the PNRR would deviate from this way of doing typical of ours and that the great competence of our Prime Minister would prevail over the wishes of the various political factions, perhaps less interested in the good of the country as a whole and more devoted instead to getting a slice of the Recovery Plan in electoral projection. Since in 18 months the Chambers will be disbanded, the more time passes and the stronger and more this pro domo thrust will be, the more unlikely the relaunch of Italy.
I certainly do not want to reject PNRR in its entirety, but what has particularly disappointed me is the paragraph on investment in high-speed infrastructure: total 25 billion over seven years. Too little and too fragmented. The PNNR correctly remembers that 90% of the traffic fleeting (860 billion passengers-km to the anus) travels on road and only 6% on track, while the European average of the traffic on track is of 7.6%, with France 11%, Great Britain 10%, Germany 9% and Spain 7%.
It is therefore objective to use these 25 billion to bring Italy in line with the EU average of 7.6% through a series of interventions on various routes. I want to ask some questions, sincere: do we really believe that bringing the percentage of rail traffic from the current 6% to 7.6% will change something for the country? Is shortening the journey time of the Palermo-Catania from the current 3 hours to 2.5 hours (200km, then average 100km/hour) that quantum leap of relaunch for the future of the South? And what systemic boost will the Trento ring road have? And how many benefits will the 15-minute savings on the Roma-Ancona (from 4 hours to 3.45).
If this Recovery Plan is really, and is, the last real opportunity to make investments, the message to my Sicilian friends is, au-contraire, to put your heart in peace, that after spending the funds of the Recovery Fund will come the time to pay it back (it’s almost all debt, be clear) and therefore the Palermo-Catania will never be improved and the high speed from Rome to Palermo will remain a chimera, bridge over the strait including.
So the North-South gap will increase, so you don’t need too much analysis to figure that out. Six months ago, in a rush of optimism I suggested a different approach to the Recovery Plan: inspired by the vision at Kennedy: which said: “We will go to the Moon”, not: “We strengthen the Orte-Falconara” I proposed “Palermo-Berlin in 8 hours”, simple and feasible (2,400 km at 300km/h); then, everything else would be “trickle down” induced. Think cannoli for breakfast and Spätzle in the evening.
This fragmentation of objectives is scattered. Italy, on the other hand, needs a revolution in the way of doing things, not an evolution, not to proceed with little steps with the philosophy “well, in the meantime let’s do this, then let’s see”. A way of thinking loser, as it is who, at chess, would say: “Well, meanwhile I move this pawn, then let’s see”.
But things are even more serious. The problem is not only the fragmentation of the 25 billion in infrastructure expenditure, but that the 25 billion is a figure far below what it takes to bring the country into modernity and transform the way to travel into a greener and safer, as are the railways.
The basic problem is also the limited ambition of the target, since the European average of 7.6% on rail is by no means the best benchmark in the world. The countries that have really used high speed to transform their economies and societies are in Asia: China and Japan. We look at their numbers so you understand that we are chasing political flags “aligned to the EU”, without any benefit to the real life of our citizens and businesses.
Immediately after the crisis of 2008, China decided to invest in rail transport and in just 12 years has extended the high-speed network from 150 km at that time to almost 35,000 today. In the first year alone, in 2009, they invested 85mld of euro, more than the triple of our 24 coated over 7 years, equivalent to 3.5mld per year on average. So they 85/year, we 3.5mld/year.
Of course, since China is a bigger economy than ours, the numbers are not comparable, but turning to the reports the music does not change: their investment of 85 billion euros is equivalent to 1.8% of GDP, while our 3.5mlds are at 0.2%, about 10 times more. And so, almost, for each of the following years for a total of investments in high rail speed equal to one thousand billion euros. We 25.
But investments are, of course, just the input of a process and it is right to analyze the results, the output, to understand the effectiveness of that plan. To have a comparison term, we use, as does our PNRR, the percentage of rail traffic in total. Remember, in our plan we want to switch rail traffic from 6.0% to 7.6% and therefore, road traffic from 90.0% to 88.4% (the rest are other means).
At the start of the programme in 2009, rail passenger traffic in China was around one third of the total, while road traffic constituted the remaining two thirds of the total. Today, in China, after 10 and a thousand billion, rail traffic is two-thirds of the total and road traffic a third: in a single decade they have reversed the situation. But there is more: not only has the wheel/total ratio halved from two-thirds to one-third, but also the absolute number of passenger-km per year peaked in 2012, three years after the launch of the program, and collapsed to values of early 2000. In practice, in a country where everything grows, people today travel less by road now than they did before.
Today, China has a safer, greener and more punctual transport network. This was a great revolution that brought well-being in the rural and less developed areas of West China, increased the economic efficiency of the whole country since, in addition to traveling at 330km/h, You can plan your work day by relying on the extreme punctuality, feature they share with Japan, without having to, as we do, create a delay buffer spent in an unproductive wait along the tracks and allowed the development of satellite cities where the daily commuting has become reality, lightening the weight even of urban car traffic
I would like us to be able to use this great opportunity provided by this great crisis for a change of pace, for a revolution. China has reduced road traffic from 65% to 33% of the total, and we have as objective the reduction of 1.6%, from 90% to 88.4%, always the policy of zero comma that haunts us. This time, it is no good to arrive at par with Europe.
Economic recovery has always been accompanied by a real estate boom, which is impossible for us; the second alternative is therefore the infrastructure sector. I appeal to the Minister for Infrastructure, Mr Giovannini, who is of course a great expert on numbers, and I am sure he shares my concern. Allow me an ironic invitation, but up to a certain point: one more zero, dear Minister, let’s move to 250 billion, for once a useful “hand”. For the country. We put everything in infrastructure. The rest of the mission, green, digital, inclusion etc., will follow inertia and will be realized naturally.
INSIGHT AND SOURCES
- Caro Giovannini, non perdiamo il treno Recovery. Firmato Geraci – formiche.net