Interview with Carlo Calenda

Wanted in Rome talks to one of the top candidates for Rome mayor ahead of local elections later this year. 

by Marco Venturini 

Carlo Calenda, the prominent politician, manager and former government minister, is the leader of the liberal and progressive Azione party. He entered the race for Rome's top job last October. 

WiR: If elected mayor, what actions would you take in the first 100 days and why? 

CC: Clean the streets and pavements, which are now dirty and full of weeds. Not to mention the areas around the rubbish bins that have become more or less small urban dumps. This will be accomplished with an extraordinary plan to clean the city, to be launched immediately and based on four pillars: sweeping public areas, removing weeds, erasing vandalism and collecting leaves when autumn arrives. It’s a 12-month plan, a sort of “shock therapy” approach that costs about €40 million and is financed by saving on the wastefulness of AMA [Rome’s municipal refuse collection agency]. 

Then I will concentrate on transport: we need to immediately save the Roma Lido train [between the city and the coastal Ostia district], which today forces passengers to wait for very long periods at the stations. It can be achieved quickly by recovering some disused trains of the B line at the Magliana depot, and putting them on the Roma Lido route.

This is not being done currently because the city and the region do not communicate with each other. In the medium term, the transformation of the line into a subway is essential. The region has been talking about this for years, but in the meantime, due to how badly it has been managed, Roma-Lido has lost half of its passengers. Romans deserve better. 

The crisis of the waste system has been under everyone’s eyes for too long. What are your proposals in this regard? 

Due to irresponsible politics, Rome does not have the facilities to treat waste, and every day we send about 160 trucks to plants all over Italy.

When these plants stop working for whatever reason, as has happened in recent weeks, AMA does not know where to take the waste and that is how an emergency is created. For this reason it is essential to build facilities.

An example? Rome is the only major city in Italy that does not have a waste-to-energy plant for undifferentiated waste. Milan, Naples and Turin all have one. It is therefore necessary to strengthen the only existing waste-to-energy plant in Lazio owned by ACEA, a [multi-utility] company of the municipality of Rome.

But there’s a problem, the law states that it is the region that chooses which type of plants will be built and Lazio, governed by the Partito Democratico and Movimento 5 Stelle, does not envisage new waste-to-energy plants for Rome. It is an ideological choice, wrong and ineffective, and the city and Romans su!er the consequences, the latter forced to pay very high amounts for the [waste tax] TARI (among the highest in Italy) due to a waste management system deficient on all fronts. For the treatment of differentiated waste, on the other hand, I foresee plants to treat wet waste, plastics, glass and bulky waste.

The need for the plants will obviously depend on separate waste collection. Today Rome has about 45 per cent separate waste collection, 15 points below the national average. This is not acceptable. We need to reach 65 per cent of separate waste collection, extending the door-to-door collection system to 80 per cent of non-domestic users, increasing the number of ‘ecological islands’ where bulky waste can be brought, and creating a network of composting plants near each large organic waste production centre. Thanks to an efficient management of the waste cycle it will be possible to relaunch those sectors that “suffer”, directly or indirectly, from this constant state of emergency, for example tourism. 

Rome’s public transport company ATAC is in a difficult state. How do you see the future of public transport in the capital and what is its role in the development of the city? 

On the subject of transport, our plan sets out interventions on various levels. From an infrastructure point of view, we need to begin a general overhaul of the metro lines as soon as possible (spending the €425 million that has gone unspent) and start an extraordinary maintenance plan for the tram network. Furthermore, the municipality must directly manage the Roma Lido and Roma Nord light- rail lines, in order to transform them into surface metros and integrate them with the existing network.

From a structural organisation point of view, we want to restructure the mobility agency (giving it more responsibilities than it has today to be in charge of other companies) and save Roma Metropolitane from bankruptcy in order to start planning the Metro D line and improve existing lines, by availing of state funds. 

Based on recent verdicts we can affirm that the Mafia does not exist in Rome. However organised crime does. What, in the event of your election, would be the actions of your administration to counter this phenomenon? 

There is a high risk that organised crime takes advantage of the crisis caused by the pandemic to expand not only its criminal activities, but also its presence in the legal economy. 

There are in fact concrete signs that criminal organisations are exploiting the difficulties of the state to propose a sort of alternative welfare to support families in crisis as well as boosting, together with extortion, the phenomenon of loan sharks. Experience tells us that, in cases like these, it is essential that families and businesses in difficulty are not left alone. 

In the fight against organised crime, the administration of Roma Capitale can and must integrate the activities of the state through the signing of a pact with the interior ministry relating to the contribution of the Polizia Locale di Roma Capitale in the work of battling mafia infiltration of businesses.

For this reason it will be important to open the municipal databases related to the authorisation and management of commercial activities to the police; the interaction with associations of the banking world and with the guarantee facilities, so that banks take on joint initiatives to facilitate access to credit for families and small businesses in difficulty; support, logistical and financial, to associations from the voluntary sector engaged in the fight against racketeering and loan sharks; the establishment of round-table discussions with associations of entrepreneurs to interpret the difficulties and needs of small businesses. 

Notoriously, the ineffciencies of Roman bureaucracy weigh on the daily lives of citizens. Are you planning a reform of the sector? If yes, what is the role of digitalisation? 

Roman bureaucracy really complicates the lives of citizens. To give you an example, in Rome it takes seven procedures to start a business, the OECD average is 4.9. In Rome, the process takes 11 days, in Turin seven, Naples eight and Milan five. The cost of opening a business represents 13.8 per cent of per capita income compared to 3 per cent in OECD countries. And then, as far as digitalisation is concerned, the situation is just as dramatic: many processes are still paper-based and it is difficult to find your way around the Roma Capitale website. 

First of all, we want to completely overhaul the municipality website. Then, we also intend to create an internal platform to monitor in real time the services provided by the municipality of Rome. Thanks to the platform, users and citizens will be able to communicate with institutions and leave feedback regarding the services provided.

Then we want to open telematic desks, so that people can get in touch with institutions and the dedicated offices via Skype or Zoom, without having to go to the various offices in person. Many practices will also have to become digital, progressively abandoning paper. 

To do all of this it will be necessary to create an innovation department, hire new young and competent technicians, and train the current staff. This is the only way we can really talk about the digital transition of the municipality. 

Is there a project in your programme to relaunch the museum sector, both public and private, which was hit hard during the pandemic? 

The restrictions due to the pandemic have put a strain on a sector that was already in need of urgent renewal. 

The last administration did not know how to enhance the city’s heritage and this is evident from the judgement that the citizens themselves have given to the city’s cultural offer: just think that Romans’ rating of the city cultural services has dropped drastically from 2015, to reach an all-time low in May 2020. 

For us, relaunching culture and the museum sector means focusing on young people and digitisation, that is, hiring more young people, for example in superintendence and in cultural institutions (such as the Teatro di Roma and museums), intensifying relationships with universities, guaranteeing free admissions to Roman students for cinemas and museums and bringing culture to the suburbs, in the wake of some projects carried out by Madrid and Paris. 

Digitisation, on the other hand, means making our heritage more accessible through digital and downloadable content, implementing online ticket offices for each museum, and carrying out social campaigns to expand cultural offerings to the public. 

Technology and young people go hand in hand: a cultural sector that is more digitised and sponsored on social media attracts more young people, and only by having young people in superintendency and in offices set up for this purpose is it possible to make a breakthrough in the digitisation of the sector. 

And then, of course, there is much more. We talk about reviewing the governance of museums, a more managerial structure, reviewing the management of Zètema [the company in charge of managing museums and organising exhibitions], increasing the ability of self-financing for cultural institutions and, above all, inserting criteria for rewarding quality cultural offerings. 

Finally, there is a project that I am very interested in, which is to completely empty the Campidoglio [city hall] of public offices, and return it to citizens by making it a museum dedicated to Roman Civilisation, which presents a unique and complete narrative of the history of the city. The Campidoglio is beautiful, located in a strategic place, and should no longer be the seat of public administration, but should become the centre of Roman culture. 

The Metro C, the Roma Stadium, the recovery of some disused industrial areas such as the former Fiera. These are just a few projects that have been discussed in recent years and which the city needs. What is the role of investment in infrastructure within your administration and what are the priorities? 

The Metro C is the most important infrastructure project in Rome. As Commissioner Gentile himself said, it has been at a standstill for 10 years because of politics. It is our administration’s intention to put in place, as soon as possible, the section up to Farnesina and speed up the process to bring it to Grottarossa. We want to avoid the “piecemeal” effect that has allowed for building one section at a time, delaying construction times indefinitely. 

On the topic of the Roma stadium, we have seen how a good administration makes the difference for investors. The outgoing council behaved in an ambiguous and constantly improvised way, changing its mind a thousand times and forcing the proponents to give up the project. We want to requalify Rome’s urban giants by collaborating with private investors in order to densify the city, without building ‘cathedrals in the desert’. 

You have been minister of economic development. What is the role of foreign investments and how do you plan to attract them? Apple, Netflix, Primark just to mention a few examples. 

First of all, we must ensure that those who are here do not choose to go elsewhere, as in the case of Sky, for example. The economic, social and productive fabric of the capital in recent years has been increasingly impoverished, with the total silence of a political class that has not been able to defend the city. My commitment once elected mayor, will be to bring Rome to the status it deserves. This is a city that has not been defended by anyone, where there is no concept of the future. 

Rome is a city with a clear international vocation. Millions of tourists visit the capital every year, but it is mainly tourism with low added value. A tourism that is hit and run and of low quality. Is there a plan by your administration to attract more quality tourism? 

Tourism represents a huge potential for economic growth for Rome – just think that in 2019 tourists spent €14 billion in Rome. But in Rome, tourists stay for a short time and spend little: 2.4 nights compared to an Italian average of 2.9 nights, with a daily expenditure of €254 compared to €549 in Paris. This absolutely must change. 

Rome must invest more in the tourism sector. In 2019, tourists paid €122 million in tourist taxes: Rome invested only €6 million under tourism. It is the Italian city of art that spends the absolute least on tourism. 

At least 15 per cent of the revenue from the tourist tax must be earmarked for tourism, so that tourism operators and citizens can enjoy better tourism. 

Then of course there is the problem of tax evasion by accommodation facilities: it is estimated that in 2019 tax evasion accounted for €8.9 million. To counter it, we need to implement data sharing protocols with police headquarters and establish agreements with Online Travel Agencies for indirect collection. This money must be invested in the promotion and marketing of Rome to reach a di!erent international audience. That’s why we’re going to create a special Destination Management Office, a special agency that deals with the promotion of the city and the management of tourist flows.

This is a tool used in major tourist cities of the world, and Florence and Milan are positive examples to be imitated. Secondly, it is necessary to invest substantially in business tourism: congressional tourists spend on average twice as much as traditional tourists, they stay longer, and major events are opportunities to showcase Rome. 

How do you imagine Rome in 5 years, ideally after your term of office? 

My commitment is to look at the Rome of the future by putting its citizens at the centre of my project. Rome is a city that needs to be reassembled piece by piece. It’s the capital city that grows less than the country it represents, and it can’t be trampled on as it has been in recent years. We have important appointments ahead of us, such as the Jubilee of 2025 and, hopefully, the Expo of 2030. Rome must absolutely be ready. 

On a more personal level, you became a father at a very young age, at 16. What did this experience teach you and what did it mean for your personal and professional growth and formation? 

I became a father at 16. It was the experience that saved my life: I was a wayward boy, I flunked out of school, it was a difficult period. From the night my daughter was born I stopped doing anything stupid, it was instantaneous. The power of love was activated: you know that this newborn child depends on you. It was like that for me. The strength of the relationship with my daughter was greater than anything else. It shows in the fact that I’ve had another three.