Italy's Monti indicates readiness to serve again under certain circumstances


Caretaker prime minister Mario Monti laid aside his normally understated style in an end-of-year news conference yesterday in which he not only launched a series of broadsides against former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi but in which he also clearly indicated that he was ready to serve as premier again, albeit in certain circumstances.

Mr Monti, who formally resigned last Friday evening after 13 months in office at the head of a cross-party, “technocrat” government, said that as a life senator he would not be contesting a parliamentary seat at the general election next February, adding however: “If one or more political forces, having shown that they adhere to my government programme, want to propose me as prime minister, then I would certainly give the matter serious consideration . . . Having assessed many different conditions, then yes . . . but that is not the same as lending my name to other forces.”

Open to proposals

In essence, Mr Monti has made it clear that he is open to proposals but only if they are realistic, acknowledging that Italy has no choice but to tread the unpopular austerity road of tax hikes and public service cuts that has characterised his year in office.

Reflecting back to 13 months ago, Mr Monti claimed that his government had managed to steer Italy out of imploding economic crisis, adding: “The financial emergency has been overcome and Italy can now go to EU summits with our heads held high.”

Any reference here to his predecessor, Mr Berlusconi, was far from coincidental. Mr Monti said that at his first EU meetings a year ago, he understood how his post-war predecessor, Alcide De Gasperi, had felt at European meetings in the late ’40s, given Italy’s lack of credibility.

In recent years, Italy had failed to make its voice heard in a Europe where, basically, no one “listened” to Mr Berlusconi.

He furthermore said that he had had no option but to announce his resignation two weeks ago in the wake of a speech made in parliament by Angelino Alfano, secretary of Mr Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party, explaining: “For me words count, especially if they are said in parliament. was a de facto expression of no confidence, marked by serious accusations about the government’s track record . . .”

In particular, Mr Monti rejected two of the principal accusations made against him by the PDL, namely that his government had worsened Italy’s economic situation and also that he had favoured the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) element in his cross-party platform. Mr Monti then said that he had great difficulty following the logic of Mr Berlusconi who one day asks him to lead a centre-right list and then next day bitterly attacks him.

Tax cuts

He criticised the populist recipe of tax cuts proposed by Mr Berlusconi, saying: “If you propose to cut property taxes and other taxes, that is basically saying that tax payments represent state robbery . . .”

Attack on Berlusconi

Complaining that the PDL had greatly watered down a government Bill on corruption, Mr Monti again attacked Mr Berlusconi when he said that legislation should be “ad nationem” (for the country) rather than “ad personam”. Throughout his 18 years in politics, Mr Berlusconi has been repeatedly accused of having enacted legal amnesties for himself, as well as economic measures favourable to his millionaire business interests.

Mr Monti suggested that among those reforms urgently needed in Italy would be measures relative to “conflict of interests”, fiscal fraud, electoral fraud and the judicial Statute of Limitations, all issues that directly touch Mr Berlusconi.

While Mr Monti’s speech clearly wipes out any possibility of an alliance with the Berlusconi PDL, on the other hand it fails to clarify his future relationship with centrist forces such as the Italiafutura group led by Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo.

As for the PD party, which tops opinion polls with a 30 per cent vote, both Mr Monti and PD leader Pierluigi Bersani were careful to keep all lines of contact wide open yesterday.