Spelacchio – or “Baldy”, as the tree has been dubbed – represents a “shameful spectacle for residents and tourists” and should be removed immediately, Codacons said on Tuesday.
The consumer rights group has filed a complaint with the regional Court of Audit, calling for an investigation into how much the threadbare tree cost Rome's taxpayers and whether it constitutes a waste of public money.
The capital is reported to have paid some €48,000 to install the Norway spruce, which has become the subject of ridicule at home and abroad.
“It's clear that 'Spelacchio' can't remain in Piazza Venezia in this condition and urgently needs to be removed,” said Codacons president Carlo Rienzi. “It's better for the city's interests to have a square with no tree than a square with a dry, balding, dying tree that makes Rome a worldwide laughing stock.”
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
The city has no plans to move Spelacchio, council sources have told the press.
The balding spruce is expected to remain in Piazza Venezia at least until Christmas – though some have joked that the tree, which was declared dead on arrival in Rome, should be buried alongside other illustrious Italians in the city's Pantheon.
The tree's nickname has become shorthand for Rome's wretched public services, for which critics seek to blame Mayor Virginia Raggi of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).
The party's opponents have been quick to make political hay from the embarrassment, with the far-right Northern League announcing that it would never support a “Spelacchio government” led by the M5S and the youth league of the right-wing Brothers of Italy laying an ironic funeral wreath by the tree's trunk.
Raggi, who as one of M5S's most prominent elected officials has faced near constant political sniping, defended last year's Christmas tree – labelled the ugliest in the world – by pointing out that both the tree and its lights had been donated to the city, allowing the council to put the money on decorations towards projects to help Romans.
This year's tree was also donated, but the city council forked out for the costs of loading and transporting it from a valley in the northern Trentino region.
Raggi has ordered an inquiry into Spelacchio-gate. Meanwhile a backlash to the backlash is growing, with the hashtags #JeSuisSpelacchio and #siamotuttiSpelacchio (“I am Spelacchio”, “we are all Spelacchio”) emerging on Twitter.
— vanessa compagno (@Vanessa_Compagn) 19 December 2017