Italy’s Monti admits loss of big powers’ support

Monti che spiega.jpg

Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, admitted yesterday (7 June) that his government has lost the support of Italy’s ‘big powers’ in business and finance.
 

In a speech at the Association of Banking Institutions and Savings Bank, Monti said: "Today we don’t have anymore the support of strong powers and the support of a newspaper which is the voice of strong powers. Today we are not very popular even in Confindustria [the Italian employers’ organisation]."

"I do not deny that we could do more and better, but many reforms have been developed with great rapidity and in the wake of need, and now are given as achievements, but these reforms have broken the taboo remained untouched for decades," Italy’s Prime Minister added.

Earlier this week, Alberto Alesina and Francesco Giavazzi wrote in the Corriere della Sera that the government has taken the wrong direction and is focusing on "false priorities." Italy's leading newspaper, which has championed Monti to replace Berlusconi last November, has launched an offensive criticising Monti's government saying his reforms risked failure.

Political chaos?

In an open letter to political daily Il Foglio yesterday (7 June), Senate President Renato Schifani, a senior member of the PDL, said the mainstream parties, particularly his own, were going through a phase of "acute disorientation."

"I ask myself what will become of Italy in six months or a year?" he wrote, calling on Berlusconi and the rest of the party leadership to accept "profound self-criticism".

He urged the parties to put forward ideas "to give Italy a strong and authoritative government able to meet challenges and tests which, alas, look like being severe, if not at the limit of what can be supported."

It is a view supported outside politics, reflected in repeated calls for strong leadership from groups including the Bank of Italy and employers lobby Confindustria as well as private business executives.

"I have never seen anything like this in over 20 years. I have no idea at all who I'm supposed to deal with," said a senior executive of an international corporation whose job involves close contact with lawmakers.

Civil society movements

Comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo is the man of the moment in Italy after his Internet-based movement made big gains in local polls last weekend with a blend of populism and eco-friendly initiatives.

A candidate from Grillo's "Five Star Movement" won out against mainstream parties to win a mayoral race in the city of Parma, and the group won around 8.0 percent of the vote in the towns it contested in the partial elections.

Grillo's breakthrough has spread something approaching panic through the mainstream parties, already reduced to a supporting role, providing parliamentary backing for Prime Minister Mario Monti's technocrat government.

"There has always been a very powerful strand of anti-politics feeling in Italy and that is coming out very strongly now," Francesco Maietta, head of the social policy division at the Rome-based think-tank Censis, told a conference this week.

Grillo's Five Star Movement, a tiny fringe group until a few months ago, has become Italy's second or third biggest political force on the back of his relentless attacks on corrupt and wasteful politicians.

Anyone hoping for change from Grillo's movement, with its large contingent of internet-savvy youngsters, may also be disappointed. Almost three weeks after winning power in the northern town of Parma, Five Star mayor Federico Pizzarotti has still not been able to form a council.

The centre-right has had particular trouble in the post-Berlusconi era, unable to escape the embrace of the scandal-plagued billionaire who says he wants to remain as 'team coach' even if he does not stand for election.

It has flirted with change, proposing the introduction of a French-style presidential system as part of a long-promised overhaul of Italy's much-criticised electoral law, but its lack of direction has prompted growing alarm within the party.

Schifani's open letter, an extremely unusual step for a politician whose office makes him the second most senior state official behind President Giorgio Napolitano, was in that sense a warning cry.

"If the crisis were not so violent and lacerating, if the confusion of ideas were not so distracting and inconclusive, I would remain rigorously within the limits of impartiality imposed by my institutional responsibilities," he said.

European Parliament President, Martin Schulz, participating in Italian TV program Piazza Pulita yesterday evening, said Monti has surely some problems but “I don’t see any viable alternative in Italy at the moment.”

 

Italy's mix of chronically low growth, a public debt mountain of €1.84 trillion, or 120% of GDP, and a struggling governing coalition are causing growing alarm on financial markets.

The country, which has been politically unstable for years, would need at least €600 billion in the case of a bailout, more than the balance of the eurozone's current bailout fund.

Prime Minister Mario Monti, when he took office five months ago, signed up to predecessor Silvio Berlusconi's goal of balancing Italy's budget by next year.

Challenges to that target have grown, however, as the 30-billion euro austerity plan that Monti rushed through at the end of last year, made up largely of tax increases, is partly to blame for this year's recession, which has in turn worsened the outlook for public finances.

 

  • 22 June: Germany, France, Italy and Spain summit in Rome
  • 28-29 June: EU leaders' summit in Brussels

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