Italy’s industrial employers’ association Confindustria said on Friday that the country was already in a recession and that GDP will continue to shrink for the rest of the year.

Confindustria made its observation after national statistics bureau Istat reported that Italy’s industrial output fell 0,6 per cent in July, compared to the same month in 2007, and that the drop would have been much higher, 3,2 per cent, if the same number of days had been worked this July. The July decline meant that output for the first seven months of the year was 1,4 per cent lower than the same period in 2007 and down 1,6 per cent when adjusted for the number of working days.

”The drop in July was very negative and would appear to indicate that the decline in GDP in the third quarter will be much worse than expected,” Confindustria’s studies center (CSC) said.

Italian Reform Minister Umberto Bossi‘s giving the finger to Italy’s national anthem led to an outcry earlier this week, but on Friday it was his supporters who were outraged by Ryanair‘s running of an advertisement showing the minister making the gesture. A photograph of Bossi, middle-finger raised in the insulting gesture, posted under the phrase “Minister Bossi to Italian passengers”, appeared on the Italian website of budget airline, Ryanair.

The Italian carmaker Fiat on Friday apologised to China for a television commercial (see below) starring United States actor Richard Gere that it acknowledged ”could disturb the sensibility of the Chinese people”.

The ad shows Gere, a long-time supporter of the Tibetan Independence Movement, drive the group’s new Lancia Delta model from Hollywood to Tibet, where he and a child dressed as a Buddhist monk plunge their hands into fresh snow.

The slogan that runs with the ad is ”The power to be different”.

For those of you who think that a socialized health care is the way, and that Italy is a model, it could be useful to know that record numbers of Italians are travelling abroad for medical treatment, according to patient figures released on Thursday.

Around 5,000 Italian ‘health tourists’ filed requests in 2005 to receive treatment abroad, the majority of them from Italy’s underdeveloped southern regions, the European organisation Active Citizenship Network (ACN) said.

Almost 40% were from the region of Campania around Naples and nearly 10% from Sicily, said the ACN, which is a European network of citizens’ rights groups. It could also be useful to know that Sicily and Campania are among those italian regions with a massive health care deficit, which forced a bailout plan from the Prodi government, made by local tax increases and additional central government funds.

Alitalia appears more than ever en route to bankruptcy, after its proposed sale to Air France-KLM ran into political turbulence and unions insisted on having the right to re-negotiate the merger terms.

Center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, who polls indicate is in the lead to become the next premier, has abandoned his previously neutral position and branded the Air France-KLM offer as ”arrogant and unacceptable”. He said Italian businessmen and banks should feel a ”sense of duty” to join together to buy Alitalia. According to the former premier, the offer could be led by Italy’s biggest private carrier Air One with the financial front coordinated by Banca Intesa, Italy’s number two bank, and the involvement of Berlusconi’s children, and that a buy offer could be ready “within the next three to four weeks”. Berlusconi also phoned outgoing Premier Romano Prodi urging him to approve a stop-gap or bridge loan from the state to allow time for an all-Italian offer to be drawn up and presented for Alitalia. In their phone conversation, Prodi recalled to Berlusconi that the European Union had made it clear that Alitalia could not receive fresh state aid unless the question of the carrier’s future had been resolved with a concrete offer for the Treasury’s stake.

Campania region’s rubbish crisis may soon get a makeover with a new ‘signature’ rubbish incinerator designed by Canadian architect Frank O. Gehry, the mayor of Salerno said Thursday.

Vincenzo De Luca flew to Los Angeles to meet the 79-year-old architect, who is behind the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Disney Village in Disneyland Paris. The mayor said he explained to Gehry the plight of the Campania region, which has suffered repeated trash emergencies in recent years after running out of places to put its waste.