Monti says he's ready to lead Italy with pro-reform agenda

AFP , Sunday 23 Dec 2012

Italian PM Mario Monti calls on political forces to 'adhere' to his agenda

Italian caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti attends an end of year news conference in Rome December 23, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said Sunday he would consider leading a pro-reform coalition into February elections and attacked his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi over what he called "dangerous" proposals.

"If one or more political forces adhere to my agenda and put forward the idea of proposing me for the post of premier, I would weigh the option," the outgoing prime minister told a news conference following his resignation Friday.

The former high-flying European commissioner cannot formally be a candidate for the February 24-25 legislative polls as he is already a senator for life.

But under Italy's electoral system he can take part in the campaign, add his name to ballot lists and be asked to lead the country by whoever wins.

"If we want to go forward with reforms there needs to be an electoral mandate, a political mandate," he said in a later interview.

"Some political forces want more from me than just to supply ideas and could indicate me as candidate for prime minister on their ballot lists," he said, adding that people from both the right and the left could join his programme.

Ballot lists for the elections must be submitted by January 11.

The 69-year-old Monti, a former economics professor who was Italy's unelected technocrat prime minister since November last year, said his economic programme aimed to "change Italy and reform Europe".

He said the main point was not to turn the clock back on austerity measures and "destroy the sacrifices that everyone has made this year".

Monti also took on Berlusconi, who is running in his sixth election in two decades, saying the billionaire media tycoon had made proposals including the abolition of a new property tax that were "very dangerous and illusory".

Berlusconi, who was convicted of tax fraud in October and is currently on trial for having sex with an underage prostitute, has begun a strident campaign against Monti's economic policies and his possible bid for office.

He has taken to the airwaves slamming Monti's government as "a complete disaster", saying he risks being "the little leader of a little party".

"Last night I had a nightmare, Monti was back in government," he said.

Monti defended his record, saying that Italy -- which is battling a two trillion euro debt mountain -- had overcome the eurozone debt crisis without resorting to an international bailout.

He resigned after Berlusconi's People of Freedom party withdrew its support for in parliament, triggering early elections.

The February vote could now turn into a nail-biting three-way race between the scandal-tainted Berlusconi, former communist Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani and a Monti-backed reform coalition.

Opinion polls have so far tipped Bersani to win, but without an outright majority, which would require a coalition.

Bersani has said he will follow the broad course of reforms set by Monti but will face trade union pressure to moderate draconian austerity measures.

Berlusconi also remains a formidable campaigner and could benefit from a vote split between the centre and the left.

European leaders and Italian businesses have urged Monti to stay on, saying he has given Italy unprecedented stability at a particularly turbulent time.

He has also received the endorsement of the Roman Catholic Church, an influential political player in Italy.

While Monti's bold reforms have received wide praise from investors and rescued Italy from the brink of bankruptcy, they are increasingly unpopular among Italians who have been on the receiving end.

The economy is still stuck in a recession, unemployment is at record highs and consumption has fallen this year at its fastest rate since World War II.

Monti's approval rating has plunged from more than 60 percent as he took office to around 30 percent in recent weeks.

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