Half of Italy is closing its eyes and muttering “It’ll be a disaster, a disaster” while peeping through its fingers and desperately hoping it won’t be – rather like Britain before the 2012 Olympics.
Milan Expo 2015 opened on Friday with an obvious disadvantage, however: it was lumbered with trade officials in suits and rather than thousands of young athletes in dressed in Lycra.
Expo 2015 was also immediately marred by sometimes violent protests from anti-globalisation activists and anti-austerity campaigners.
A large anti-expo march through the centre of Milan was overtaken by anarchist groups that torched cars and smashed shop windows. Police used tear gas to try and disperse parts of the crowd.
The food fair –aimed at recasting Italy’s image abroad – is also threatened by transport strikes and security concerns. One newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano, asked on its front page today: “Will Expo be a success – or make us a laughing stock?”
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is not in doubt. He hailed Italy’s achievement in getting the vast, food-themed trade park up and running in time – despite doom-laden predictions of sceptics after widespread reports of crooked contracts and late-running construction.
“To those of you who said we’d never do it, this is the response,” he declared today after arriving, on time, to host the official opening ceremony, before adding, somewhat cryptically: “Today Expo begins: today tomorrow begins.” Hotels, restaurants and museums across Italy hope to earn extra from the millions of visitors who will visit at some point during the six-month-long event.
Milan’s business big guns are on board and fashion icon Giorgio Armani threw a party for some of his closest A-list friends, including Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Tina Turner, Sophia Loren and Pierce Brosnan at the Armani Hotel.
Boy George treated the VIPs – who were also celebrating 40 years since Armani launched his fashion business – to an old-school DJ set, which is about as edgy as things get in Italy’s business-orientated design capital. But as the country’s financial motor, Milan is surely the place to host a trade fair with global aspirations.
Economist Professor Alberto Dell’Acqua, of Milan’s Bocconi business school, told The Independent that a smooth-running Expo could earn the country an extra €20b between now and 2020 from increased business and foreign investment.
But there could be more trouble ahead, with Black Bloc anarchists planning to make their presence felt at Friday night’s performance of Turandot at La Scala.
Even Pope Francis has been critical, saying the Expo is part of a “paradox of abundance” that “obeys the culture of waste and does not contribute to a model of equitable and sustainable development”. But that hasn’t stopped the Vatican joining the party, investing €3m (£2.2m) on an Expo pavilion of its own.
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