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YOU would not know it from the English-language signs promising to serve passengers “quckly”, but Naples’ Capodichino
airport is British-owned. In August, 70% of it was bought by BAA, a company that also runs, among other things, London’s
main airport, Heathrow. For the Italian south this is a symbol of hope. Finding an international firm of this calibre willing to
invest there has greatly boosted its confidence.
BAA, for its part, was attracted by the south’s tourist potential, but spent three years thinking hard about the $44m deal. What
clinched it in the end was the enthusiasm of Antonio Bassolino, the mayor of Naples since 1993. He won round BAA bosses
with his clear commitment to privatisation, and fought off opposition at home to foreign ownership, branded as “colonisation by
A former communist fundamentalist, Mr Bassolino is an unlikely champion of privatisation. But the BAA deal is no one-off. Mr
Bassolino boasts about selling the municipal dairy-“What was a city council doing selling milk?”-and about pioneering, with
Merrill Lynch, Italy’sfirst international municipal bond issue, which sold well in America. The cash was used to renovate the
city’s public transport system. He is promoting public-private partnerships; and he has just persuaded the Chinese commercial
fleet to use Naples as its main container port for serving Europe.
The city’s inefficient bureaucracy has been shaken up, with the mayor leading by example. His distinctly un-Neapolitan
punctuality and long working hours have earned him the nickname “the German”. Using money for hosting the G7 summit in
1994 as a catalyst, the city has cleaned and restored many of its vast number of tourist attractions. It has also extended its
opening hours and cleared the main piazzas of parked cars (though not, alas, of moving mopeds). Mr Bassolino talks with
passion of re-born civic pride, of the need for Naples to solve its own problem…