Schäuble compares Monti favourably to Berlusconi


On a day when Silvio Berlusconi suggested he might withdraw from the general election contest, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble ruffled centre-right feathers by suggesting Mario Monti’s government had done “much better than its predecessor”, namely that of Mr Berlusconi.

In saying that “there is a big difference between Monti and his predecessor”, Mr Schäuble made it very clear that he had serious reservations about any possible return to power by Mr Berlusconi.

The former prime minister closed a day of frenetic campaign fever by making the remarkable suggestion that he might step back if Mr Monti would agree to lead a “rassemblement of moderates”.

Mr Monti is known to have been greatly offended by the outspoken criticism of his government both from Mr Berlusconi in recent days and from PDL secretary Angelino Alfano in parliament last Friday. That criticism prompted him to tender his resignation and, in that context, Mr Berlusconi’s offer last night looks like a definite non-starter.

Mr Schäuble, who was speaking before an EU finance ministers’ meeting in Brussels, seemed to be responding to Mr Berlusconi who on Tuesday had called the Italo-German bond spread differential a “swindle”.

He accused “Berlin” of ordering German banks to sell off €8-9 billion of Italian bonds in the autumn of 2011 in a move that eventually forced him to resign that November.

Mr Monti also seemed to move into campaign mode yesterday, defending his record in office. On Tuesday, Mr Berlusconi had argued that the Italian economy was worse now than when he stepped down. Mr Monti, widely credited with having stabilised the economy, said yesterday: “You have to be careful when claiming that the reforms implemented by my government have not worked … Reforms like those need time before you see the benefits.”

Mr Monti accepted that the Berlusconi government had implemented some reforms but it had left “an awful lot to do”.