The possibility of a partnership between Telecom Italia and Hutchison Whampoa, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate, has provoked political opposition in Italy.

According to Reuters, the Italian incumbent may well first have to sell its fixed-line network to the state if the deal is to get political backing. There are fears in some quarters of foreign ownership in Telecom Italia, which is viewed by many as having strategic national importance.

“If Telecom ended up under the control of Hutchison, the key issue would be the fate of the network and of its enormous data asset base,” Paolo Gentiloni, centre-left politician and former communication minister, told the publication. “Keeping Telecom in Italian hands is not something to defend at any cost, but access to the network has a strategic value that must be safeguarded.”

According Reuters’ sources, Hutchison is targeting up to 29.9 per cent of Telecom Italia. The Hong Kong-based company would then merge its 3 Italia mobile unit with Telecom Italia.

If the fixed-line network is not part of the deal, however, Nomura analyst James Britton speculates that Hutchison’s interest in Telecom Italia may very well evaporate.

Last week Telecom Italia set up a special committee, led by Franco Bernabe, chairman of the board, to explore the potential of a Hutchison partnership.