Like most European car manufacturers these days, Fiat is in trouble. After all, if you’ve just lost your job, the last thing you are likely to want to buy is a car. Or a house.

“60,000 jobs at risk” screamed the front page of just about all main Italian newspapers yesterday. This headline, as far as I could make out, was based purely on some crafty comment that Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne made to the media, in particular Ansa, the Italian press agency.

You see, Marchionne is of the mind that the Italian government should bale the company, quickly glossing over management’s ineptitude of the past few years (Marchionne himself is new so perhaps can be excused; others of his team are not). After all, Berlusconi has been all pally with Fiat management in the past, inviting them round to his private villa for the express purpose of begging. Not this time. It looks that Berlusconi is going to stand firm, and demand that they sort their own mess out. They just had a meeting yesterday, when he was supposed to have told them as much.

Berlusconi, after all, has other problems on his plate. The country’s economy – which is looking worse and worse all the time. It is in fact in a comparatively worse state than other European countries, largely because of its exorbitant debt. Finance minister Giulio Tremonti has just giving a revealing interview to the Financial Times, where he spelled out exactly how much trouble the country is in.

Also, Berlusconi is wary of running up against the surprisingly assertive Neelie Kroes, the EU’s competition commissioner, who has demonstrated in the past that she has short shrift with any country trying to favour its own companies over those in other countries.  Other countries have been worrying about the same kind of thing, when it comes to bailing out their car companies.  The other day, as Britain moved to prop up its car industry, car companies signalled that they were worried the aid would take too long to be approved by the EU. France and Germany have also been making similar moves to bail out the car industry – but again, when the aid is approved, it may be too late.

That is, of course, assuming that countries wish to go down the formal route of seeing state aid approval. They may instead take the very Southern European route of dressing the state aid as something else, and then acting all surprised when the EU cries foul. This wouldn’t be the first time Italy has been caught out doing this.

For now, though, Marchionne will continue to mutter under his breath about the risk of job losses – in the hope that the Italian government is shamed into taking some action. But if any journalist tries to peer under the bonnet of what has been going on at Fiat, and it certainly bares looking at, they are likely to get the get cold shoulder. I just asked for an interview with Fiat to look at, among other things, their pension liabilities. Guess what? They said no.


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