Italy probably fought hardest for Raphael, the European Commission's student exchange programme in art restoration and conservation, yet it now has the greatest problems in taking part.
The country's three state institutes of restoration and conservation have refused to participate. Giovanni Cordaro, director of the world's first school of restoration, Rome's Central Institute, is sceptical about the exchanges.
"One problem is the enormous difference between the various types of diplomas awarded in Europe. Another is the fact that the work of an Italian restauratore are not that of a British 'restorer'. " Giorgio Bonsanti, head of Florence's Opificio Institute and restoration laboratories, said: "The Raphael initiative is unfortunately at present unsuited to Italy where an excess of laws and regulations make life very difficult for us. For example, were we to have a project approved, our EC funds would have to be handed over to the Italian ministry (for national heritage) with the perplexing uncertainty as to when, if ever, we would be reimbursed."
Neither Professor Cordaro nor Professor Bonsanti had been told of a Raphael-funded international conference organised by the Italian ministry and due to be held in Pavia next month, for which they are both listed as speakers.
Concetta Musconno, director of the school of mosaic restoration in Ravenna, thought Raphael was a positive initiative in theory but perhaps not in practice.
Matteo Rossi-Doria, owner of a private restoration firm in Rome, complained that Italy was not ready. "The costs alone of putting together a project application are forbiddingly high", he said.
Satisfied Italian Raphael partners include the Genoa Historic Houses Association (European gardens and parks project) and the University of Naples (rediscovering building technologies in countries with seismic activity).
Raphael was first proposed by the European Commission in 1995 as a Community action programme and is the third of the three pillars of Union activity on culture. The other two are Kaleidoscope (artistic and cultural activities) and Ariane (books, reading and translation). An umbrella programme for the three starts late next year. Raphael was adopted after a two-year experiment period in July this year. Its budget until 2000 is Pounds 21 million.
Professional, student and trainee exchanges are funded through scholarships assigned at the discretion of project organisers. Projects must involve at least three countries, which in some cases may be non-European.
Official figures for the 1996/97 pilot scheme give an EU total of 392 scholarships linked to 147 projects selected from 495 applicants.
Although most of these projects have now been completed, both the Commission and the Italian ministry for the national heritage said they had no records of how scholarship funds were used.