Italy’s Monti to unveil crisis game plan

November 17, 2011 7:56 am


Italy's new Prime Minister Mario Monti (L) formally takes over from Silvio Berlusconi/AFP
ROME, Nov 17 – Italy’s new Prime Minister was set to unveil his economic programme on Thursday while facing an early challenge in the form of a trade union strike over reforms required for a lifeline bailout.

Mario Monti’s new technocratic government, sworn in Wednesday under intense pressure from financial markets and global leaders to save Italy from possible economic ruin, will face a confidence vote in the Senate at 1930 GMT Thursday.

It will then go to a vote in the lower house at 1300 GMT on Friday.

Monti, who replaced Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister, is expected easily to win the votes, but could face a political backlash when he moves to implement painful and long-delayed economic reforms.

The former European commissioner said his new team would “race” to implement “coordinated initiatives for economic growth and development”, after taking over from the ousted larger-than-life media mogul.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy immediately congratulated the esteemed economist on his appointment, saying: “Together we will succeed.”

Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker said the appointment was “good news for Italy and for the eurozone.”

Berlusconi, who has vowed a comeback, stepped down on Saturday following intense market pressure. His resignation was met by cries of “Buffoon!” and “Mafioso!” as overjoyed Italians partied and danced in the streets of Rome.

In Monti’s new cabinet, Corrado Passera, chief executive of Italy’s biggest retail bank Intesa Sanpaolo, will head up a reinforced economic development, transport and infrastructure ministry charged with boosting growth.

“I am confident the markets can be convinced with clear action. Italy is worth more than the markets think,” Passera told reporters.

As he scrambled to put together his cabinet this week, Monti sought to build consensus around the idea that Italians will have to make “sacrifices”.

He faces dissent from trade unions who have called a strike for Thursday, as well as a protest by students who have little faith in the new government.

Monti has won endorsements from all of Italy’s main political forces but faces a major challenge in steering a course through a fractious political world, with particularly intense sniping from Berlusconi allies.

The soft-spoken Monti has garnered support of more than half of Italians, according to a poll by IPR Marketing.

Tense markets fluctuated before and after his nomination, with the rate on Italian 10-year government bonds hovering around the 7.0-percent warning threshold that set off alarm bells around Europe and beyond.

Italy has to issue 440 billion euros (about $590 billion) in debt next year, according to the main public debt representative in the Italian Treasury, Maria Cannata. She admitted this would be “more complicated” because of market volatility.

Italy has a debt mountain of 1.9 trillion euros ($2.6 trillion).

Despite a 10-year stint in Brussels, Monti never held office in Italy but has already shown mettle by insisting his government has to stay in power until 2013 — the scheduled date for the next general election.

The departing Berlusconi reportedly spent his last day in office packing up gifts while his singer friend Mariano Apicella released an album of love songs written by the outbound premier.

“Stay, and leave me your heart,” says one lyric. Another says: “I adore you and I already miss you.”


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