Italy's new premier rushes to build govt

2011-11-14 16:27

Rome - Italy's premier-designate Mario Monti began talks on Monday to create a new government of non-political experts tasked with overhauling an ailing economy to keep market fears over the country from threatening the existence of the euro.

Investors initially cheered Monti's appointment, following quickly on Silvio Berlusconi's weekend resignation, though concern lingered about the sheer amount of work his new government will have to do to restore faith in the country's battered economy and finances.

President Giorgio Napolitano tapped Monti on Sunday to create a government capable of implementing economic reforms aimed at reviving stagnant growth to bring down public debt, stuck near 120% of GDP.

Monti pledged to act "with a sense of urgency" to identify ministers in the new government but said he would also take the time necessary's to secure a strong team. He was meeting various political parties throughout the day to garner support for his mission.

Rare efficiency in political machinery

The head of the lower chamber of Parliament, Gianfranco Fini, said he expects the new Monti government to be confirmed by Friday.

Under pressure from markets, Italy's political machinery has been moving with rare efficiency - both houses passed fresh austerity and reform measures within two days, paving the way for Berlusconi's resignation.

Improving market confidence in Italy is crucial to the future of the eurozone as the country would be too expensive to rescue. A default on its €1.9trillion in debt would cause massive chaos in financial markets and shake the global economy.

As in Greece, where a new government of technocrats also took over last week, the hope is that administrations of experts not affiliated to parties will be more willing to make the tough but necessary decisions that politicians have so far balked at.

Monti appeared to have the respect of many Italians, eager to see an end to the financial crisis that threatens their own well-being.

"In my opinion he will be better than what we had before, obviously. He seems to me to be a person who is serious, normal and with experience," said Bernardo Albrigo, in the Campo Dei Fiori open-air market in central Rome.

A sense of urgency

The next six months will be a tough test of the Italian government's ability to restore credibility in its finances - some €200bn in public debt comes due through the end of April.

Monti said on Sunday that he would act "with a sense of urgency" to identify ministers in the new government but said he would also take the time necessary to secure a strong team. He will be meeting with various political parties throughout the day to garner support for his mission.

Monti must now draw up a cabinet, lay out his priorities, and see if he has enough support in Parliament to govern.

Berlusconi staying in politics

Rival political parties offered various degrees of support, including one demand from Berlusconi's party - the largest in Parliament - that his government last only as long enough as it takes to heal Italy's finances and revive the economy.

"In a moment of particular difficulty for Italy, in a troubled global and European context, the country must win the challenge to redeem itself. Italy needs to return to being an element of strength and not weakness in the European Union, of which we were founders and in which we need to be protagonists," Monti said on Sunday.

The 68-year-old economics professor proved his mettle as European competition commissioner in the 1990s. But he'll have to win a confidence vote in Parliament before he can lead the nation.

Despite his resignation, Berlusconi pledged to continue playing a role in Italian politics.

"Berlusconi made his position very clear when he left on Sunday. He sent a video message to Italy saying that he is not finished," said James Walston, a political analyst at the American University of Rome.

"So at the moment he is certainly not retired, he is not the retiring type."

- AP

Read more on:    silvio berlusconi  |  mario monti  |  italy
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