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Sergio Marchionne


Fiat's boss Sergio Marchionne has come under attack by senior politicians in Italy after he laid bare in comments earlier this week that inefficiencies were hampering the carmaker's Italian plants.

Mr. Marchionne, who emigrated to Canada with his family when he was 14 years old, sparked strong debate in Italy after saying on prime time television on Sunday that Fiat would perform better if it could carve out Italy from its results.

The outspoken Mr. Marchionne, at the helm of Italy's biggest industrial group since 2004, hit a raw nerve when he said all of five Italian car factories could not match the productivity of Fiat's single Polish plant.

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"Marchionne ... has proved to be more Canadian than Italian. His comments would be normal on the mouth of a foreign top manager," Lower House speaker Gianfranco Fini, who is also the leader of a group of centre-right deputies that has broken away from the ruling People of Freedom party, told Italian media said last night in Milan.

"If Fiat is a giant, this is because for a very long time Italian taxpayers have prevented Fiat's collapse."

Mr. Marchionne's comments are "offensive and unworthy given that Fiat has always been the beneficiary of government money," Italian media quoted Antonio di Pietro, who heads the opposition Italy of Values party, as saying.

Mr. Marchionne, the architect of Fiat's turnaround from its near collapse, has pledged to invest €20-billion ($28.07-billion) in Italy if it gets more labour flexibility at Italian plants. But he has clashed with key workers' union Fiom.

Some politicians and union leaders have raised doubts about Fiat's commitment to Italy now that the company has expanded into the United States with the acquisition of Chrysler and into emerging markets like Brazil.

Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the centre-left opposition Democratic Party also raised concerns about a possible erosion of workers' rights in Italy in the face of lower wage costs in China.

"What sort of model for making cars do we have in mind? Is it China and Serbia or France and Germany?," Mr. Bersani told Italian media. "We need universal rules, otherwise we too will become Chinese."

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But Fiat is not planning to abandon Italy, Chairman John Elkann has told businessmen and bankers, according to newspaper Il Messaggero.

Mr. Machionne has already said he would close the Termini Imerese plant in Sicily, the smallest of Fiat's plants in Italy.

However, Mr. Marchionne has won some word of praise from Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of the centrist opposition party UdC.

"Mr. Marchionne should not be demonized. Even if Fiat did get government support in the past. He has a hundred good reasons, like when he talks about the loss of competitiveness or says that foreigners do not invest in our country," Mr. Casini said.

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