Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Monti seeks to steady Italian ship

Economist Mario Monti has agreed to form a new Italian government (AP)

Economist Mario Monti has accepted the monumental task of trying to form a new government that can rescue Italy from financial ruin - expressing confidence that the nation can beat the crisis if its people pull together.

His selection came a day after Silvio Berlusconi reluctantly resigned as premier, bowing out after world markets pummelled Italy's borrowing ability, reflecting a loss of faith in the 75-year-old media mogul's leadership.

Mr Berlusconi resigned after the Italian parliament approved new reform measures demanded by the European Union and central bank officials - but even those are not considered enough to right Italy's ailing economy.

"There is an emergency, but we can overcome it with a common effort," Mr Monti told the nation, shortly after Italy's president Giorgio Napolitano formally asked him to see if he can muster enough political support to lead the country out of its most trying times since the Second World War.

"In a moment of particular difficulty, Italy must win the challenge to bounce back, we must be an element of strength and not weakness in the European Union, of which we are founders," he added.

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

Rival political parties offered various degrees of support, including one demand from Mr 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.

The 68-year-old economics professor is no pushover, earning a reputation for staring down challenges as a tough EU competition commissioner. But he will have to win a confidence vote in Parliament before he can lead the nation.

Mr Monti told reporters he will carry out his task "with a great sense of responsibility and service toward this nation".

Italy's economy is hampered by high wage costs, low productivity, fat government payrolls, excessive taxes, choking bureaucracy, and an educational system that produces one of the lowest levels of college graduates among rich countries. In addition, as the third-largest economy in the eurozone, Italy is considered too big for Europe to bail out like Greece, Portugal and Ireland have been.

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