Monday, 14 November 2011

Italy's adaptable constitution put to use

Mario Monti's key task is to re-establish confidence in Italy to emerge from the debt crisis

Italian prime minister Mario Monti

Italy's new Prime Minister Mario Monti speaks to the press after being appointed by the President at the Quirinale, the presidential palace, in Rome. Source: AFP

Italy's President has formally asked economist Mario Monti to form an emergency government aimed at implementing key economic measures necessary to pull the country out of Europe's escalating debt crisis.

Before starting to govern, Mr Monti must choose a cabinet, and his new administration must ensure that it has a majority in parliament.Departing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he and his supporters were willing to back a new "high-level technical government" headed by the economist as part of an effort to improve Italy's fortunes and save the eurozone from further crisis.

Mr Berlusconi, who resigned late Saturday as prime minister but will serve in that capacity until a new premier is named, said in a televised message that he would support Mr Monti on the assumption that the Italian economist's new administration would have "broad bipartisan parliamentary support." Mr Berlusconi's message came as President Giorgio Napolitano was meeting with Mr Monti to ask him to form a new government. Any new government has to get Parliament's approval before it can begin its term.

Mr Berlusconi, whose resignation was met with jubilation in the streets of Rome, also defended his 17-year political career and insisted that the 2012 budget bill approved last week contained economic measures that fulfil more than half of the demands made of Italy by its EU partners.

"We have done all possible to save our families and companies from the global crisis," Mr Berlusconi said. "The crisis is everywhere, it's not just affecting Italy." The departing premier also made it clear that he wouldn't be leaving politics. He said he would continue to serve as a member of Parliament and wouldn't "surrender" until he and his supporters had succeeded in modernising Italy's institutional, judicial and fiscal architecture.

The new government will have to adopt unpopular economic measures. Mr Berlusconi's resignation brings down the curtain on one of the most brash and controversial leaderships of the Western world, hours after Parliament approved an austerity package that the European Union had demanded. Mr Monti had been widely considered the front-runner for the premiership. He has the support of Italy's centre-left opposition and of many members of Silvio Berlusconi's conservative People of Freedom Party.

Mr Monti's success in overhauling Italy's stagnant economy will largely depend on whether he can draw broad support in the deeply divided Parliament—and whether he can sustain such support as he presses for an overhaul aimed at bringing Italy's economy in line with those of its stronger European partners. Changes are likely to include controversial proposals to loosen Italy's restrictive labor market and slash red tape that has strangled businesses over the decades.

He will face immediate pressure from some forces in Mr Berlusconi's conservative party and the separatist Northern League party. A key question will be how Mr Monti decides to divvy up the ministerial seats in his cabinet, so that a broad enough swath of Italy's fractious political parties is represented. Umberto Bossi, head of the Northern League, reiterated yesterday that his party won't give immediate support to a possible government led by Mr Monti. "For now, we said 'no,' " Mr. Bossi said. He added that his party's ranks in parliament would vote according to whether they supported the proposals of a Monti-led government.

Angelino Alfano, secretary of Mr Berlusconi's party, told a Sunday talk show that his forces would give tentative support to an emergency government in order to pull Italy back from the brink of the eurozone debt crisis. The length of Mr Monti's possible mandate hinges on how quickly he makes progress in changing Italy's economy, and won't expire "like yogurt," Mr. Alfano said. He stressed, however, that his party will push for elections "as soon as the [emergency government's] program has been realised."

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