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Monti’s legacy: praise in Europe, Italians wrung dry

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MILAN, Dec 23 – Italy’s Mario Monti, who stepped down on Friday, leaves behind a legacy of austerity and reforms which won him high praise among European leaders but embittered ordinary Italians squeezed hard by a worsening recession.

“13 months of tears and blood: oppressive reforms, international successes,” left-wing Il Fatto Quotidiano daily said in summing up Monti’s term.

“The bill we’ve been left with is steep: 42 billion ($55 billion),” it said, referring to the budget deficit of the eurozone’s third biggest economy.

Monti is widely credited in international circles with having saved Italy from a financial meltdown after stepping in unelected to take over from billionaire Silvio Berlusconi and launching a program aimed at bringing debt under control.

The announcement of his resignation earlier this month sparked concern in many quarters over whether Italy would slip back into the mire without his leadership, with a potentially devastating knock-on effect on the eurozone.

Silvio Berlusconi’s recent bid to return to frontline politics was met with panic: European leaders and the markets came out in force behind Monti, calling on him to run in February’s election and ensure his agenda is carried forward.

One of the clearest signals of Monti’s success has come from the financial markets, with the yield on Italian 10-year sovereign bonds dropping from more than 7.0 percent when he took over to around 4.4 percent this week.

Italy’s financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore compared the restoration of market confidence in the crisis-hit country to the righting of the shipwrecked Concordia cruise liner, which crashed off the Tuscan coast in January.

“We were at the level of the Concordia, half sunk and beached: a symbolic image of 2012. Now we have set sail once more,” columnist Stefano Folli said.

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The former eurocrat fought hard to modernise Italy by boosting competitivity and his first law included an extensive pension reform, followed by labour market legislation to make hirings and firings easier for employers.

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