Monti departure paves way for early general election
In an unexpected move, Italian prime minister Mario Monti confirmed at the weekend that he would step down from office as soon as the current budget has been approved by parliament.
Mr Monti’s decision came just a day after Angelino Alfano, the secretary of the People of Freedom (PDL) party of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, had said in parliament that the “Monti experience” was concluded.
The party, however, did not vote against Mr Monti’s government on key economic measures last Friday, but abstained.
Withdrawal of support
At a meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano on Saturday evening, Mr Monti is believed to have explained that he could no longer stay in office following the withdrawal of the support of the largest member of the cross-party coalition which has underpinned his unelected, technocrat government since November 2011.
In so doing, Mr Monti has anticipated the general election vote by a couple of weeks, if not a month.
In calendar terms, the anticipation means little. In political terms, it means everything, since Mr Monti’s move may well have wrong-footed Mr Berlusconi.
Most observers believe the PDL “half withdrew” its support last Friday in the hope that it might begin to distance itself from the austerity-driven Monti regime for its last few months in office without actually bringing it down.
By bringing forward his resignation (now likely to come before Christmas), Mr Monti has effectively defied Mr Berlusconi, attributing to him, in the eyes of both domestic and international opinion, responsibility for his government’s downfall.
Many commentators also believe Mr Monti’s move could yet conclude with his being called to lead a middle-of-the-road formation, opposed to both Mr Berlusconi and the centre-left, at the forthcoming elections.
Last week, reports of Mr Berlusconi’s return appeared to prompt market nervousness, with the Italo-German 10-year bond spread moving from 292 basis points to 323 in three days.
Speaking in Oslo yesterday, president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz told the ANSA news agency Mr Berlusconi was “the opposite of stability”, adding that many of Italy’s problems were the “result” of his eight years in office.
In a typical flourish, Mr Berlusconi formally confirmed his return at the Milanello training ground of his AC Milan Serie A football club on Saturday.
It seems clear that he will now campaign on an anti-Monti, anti-property tax, anti-Merkel, anti-euro and anti-EU ticket.
Mr Berlusconi will attempt to make the most of the unpopularity of a government which has imposed a mix of pension cuts, tax hikes and public service cuts on Italians.