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Europe

Cash-strapped Italian govt puts luxury cars on eBay

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-29

Luxury cars owned by the Italian state have gone up for auction on eBay in the latest effort by the country’s cash-strapped government to cut costs and respond to public demand for a reining in of extravagant spending by the political elite.

New Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said a total of 170 cars, including Jaguars, BMWs and Maseratis, will initially be auctioned off, but he eventually wants to put as many as 1,500 vehicles up for sale, Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper reported.

This is just a small fraction of the 60,000-vehicle fleet owned by Italy’s public bodies, however, estimated to cost the state more than 1 billion euros a year to run.

So far, bidding has opened on a total of 25 cars on eBay, and they appear to be attracting plenty of interest.

Most popular has been a 2007 Alfa Romeo 166, attracting 97 bids and a top offer of 9,550 euros. The highest bid for any of the vehicles currently up for auction is 20,000 euros for a 2009 BMW 525.

Many of the more luxurious cars have yet to go on the block. They include two Jaguars previously used by the justice ministry, taken from its fleet of more than 830 chauffeured cars.

To put that figure into context, the UK government has a total fleet of just 85 cars available for use by ministers.

Also set to go on sale are nine Maseratis owned by the defence ministry. They were among 19 ordered by the ministry shortly before the collapse of the Silvio Berlusconi government in 2011, at the peak of the eurozone debt crisis.

Symbolic gesture

The extravagant purchase caused outrage at a time when the defence ministry was facing budget cuts of 2.5 billion euros, though then-defence minister Ignazio La Russa was unapologetic.

“What's the problem? Maseratis are Italian and they cost less than their German equivalents,” he said at the time.

The auction is unlikely to have much of an impact on Italy’s substantial public debt of around 2 trillion euros, but is seen as a symbolic gesture by Renzi at a time of biting austerity cuts in the country.

Renzi, a centre-left politician who became Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister at the age of 39 in February, has sought to win over the public with a less ostentatious style than many of his predecessors.

He drove to a meeting with former prime minister Enrico Letta, shortly before he replaced him, in a blue Smart car.

Before that he was often spotted cycling to work in his hometown of Florence, where he was mayor from 2009 to 2014.

However, the populist Five Star Movement, a party formed by Italian activist and comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009, accused Renzi of hypocrisy over the car auction, saying that while 170 vehicles are being sold, the government has plans to purchase 210 more.

The auction will run until mid-April.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-03-29

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