ROME Italy's preparations for hosting an array of G7 meetings are being threatened by a dispute over who should handle accreditations for the upcoming events, including a leaders' summit in May.
Officials from the Group of Seven major industrialised nations - the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada - hold a variety of talks each year on everything from finance to foreign policy to health care.
Italy has the rotating presidency in 2017 and the first major conference, on culture, is due to be held next week in Florence. All attendees of the meetings need accrediting, including ministers, aides, cooks, cleaning staff and reporters.
However, the system is still not operational because of a legal battle over who should handle the work.
With two firms locked in a dispute over who should have the contract and time pressure growing, Italy's top administrative court heard the case on March 9 and said on Thursday it had overruled the previous decision.
The original winner of the tender lacked the experience, knowledge and capacity to carry out work of such importance from a political, diplomatic and security point of view, the court said.
It was not immediately clear if a new tender would have to be held or whether the contract would automatically be awarded to the rival company.
Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni's office issued a statement saying preparations for the G7 leaders' summit in the Sicilian town of Taormina in late May would be completed without any delays. It did not mention four other meetings due before then, including a gathering of foreign ministers in April.
More than 20,000 accreditation badges might be required at Taormina, which is due to be attended by U.S. President Donald Trump, with everyone on the list needing security clearance.
The head of the firm which originally lost the tender told Reuters it had handled accreditations for the last three G7 meetings in Italy and its rival did not have the necessary experience.
"When we bid for work abroad it always goes smoothly and efficiently. Sadly, the problems start when we bid for work back home in Italy," Andrea Filacchioni complained.
The rival firm declined to respond to requests for comment.
Despite having had seven years to prepare for this G7, preparations have not gone smoothly. Work on getting Taormina ready for the May summit has barely started.
The government still needs to build two helicopter landing pads to ferry leaders to the venue from the NATO military airport of Sigonella. It also needs to renovate an access road and create a media centre.
"I was assured today that everything would be ready by May 8," Taormina Mayor Eligio Giardina told Reuters. "Believe me, if you get everything ready in Italy 20 days before an event starts, then you are doing really well."
(additional reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Mark Trevelyan)