Italy's economically-crippled south risks being trapped in a permanent cycle of underdevelopment according to a new study which has left the government red-faced.
The anti-establishment Five Star party called on the country's economic development minister Friday to address the Senate on the "frankly disastrous situation" south of the capital, from Naples to Sicily, which was outlined in a report by the Svimez Institute.
"Industrial desertification" risks leading to "a lack of human resources, businesses and financial communities" which would "prevent the south from latching onto economic recovery and transform a cyclical crisis into a permanent state of underdevelopment," the report said.
Gross domestic product in the so-called Mezzogiorno grew just 13 percent between 2000 and 2013, while that of troubled Greece grew 24 percent, the report said.
While one Italian in 10 is at risk of poverty in the centre-north of the country, that rockets to one in three in the Mezzogiorno.
The institute, which produces a report annually on the south, said the unemployment rate in the area in 2014 was 20.5 percent, compared to a national average of 12.7 percent -- with the jobless rate under the 10 percent mark in the wealthy centre-north.
"I would advise (Prime Minister Matteo) Renzi to read carefully the Svimez report and reflect on the fact that this is the moment he should resign," said Michele Piras, an MP for the Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) party.
The economic crisis has forced many to leave the area to seek work elsewhere: excluding foreigners, the number of inhabitants in the south has dropped by 196,000 since 2001, while it has grown by 315,000 in the north.
Svimez said the situation in the corruption-plagued south could be reversed by creating Special Economic Zones (SEZs) where tax breaks would attract domestic and international investors.
The slump is "the inevitable result of almost 20 years in which... the illusion was fostered that boosting the locomotive of the north would speed up the waggons of the south," said reforms undersecretary Ivan Scalfarotto of Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party (PD).
Alessandro Nicolo from former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Go Italy party said the south was "supposed to be an opportunity for economic, social and political progress."
Instead, "Renzi continues to persevere with bad choices, enslaving himself to France and Germany and failing to dictate the country's agenda, particularly in the south".