Mario Monti will not stand in election, but is open to offers for leadership

Italian caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti. Picture: Reuters
Italian caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti. Picture: Reuters
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AFTER keeping Italians, and the rest of Europe, in suspense for weeks, caretaker premier Mario Monti yesterday ruled out running in February’s elections but said he would consider leading the next government if political forces sharing his reform-focused economic agenda requested it.

The decision positions Mr Monti to take the helm again without having to get involved directly in campaigning – preserving his image as someone above the political fray who can make tough decisions imposing austerity measures.

Silvio Berlusconi, the scandal-tainted ex-premier, hit out at Mr Monti again yesterday.

“I had a nightmare – still a government with Monti,” the media mogul said. He has said in the past that he would run again if Mr Monti did not, but made no commitment yesterday about his own political future.

Mr Monti, who after his resignation on Friday is continuing in a caretaker role in charge of a non-elected government tasked with rescuing Italy’s economy, ruled out heading any ticket – including the centre-right grouping that Mr Berlusconi said he would be willing to back. But the 69-year-old economist made it clear he was willing to take another term in power.

“If one or more political forces is credibly backing [my] agenda, or even has a better one, I’d evaluate the offer,” Mr Monti said.

“To those forces who demonstrate convincing and credible adherence to the Monti agenda, I am ready to give my appreciation, encouragement, and if requested, leadership, and I am ready to assume, one day, if the circumstances require it, the responsibility that would be entrusted to me by parliament.”

Mr Monti added: “I have no sympathy for ‘personal’ parties.”

Mr Monti was appointed in November 2011 to head a non-elected government with the goal of saving Italy from a Greece-style debt debacle after financial markets lost faith in his predecessor, Mr Berlusconi.

Mr Berlusconi triggered Mr Monti’s resignation last week, a few months ahead of the term’s end, when he withdrew his Freedom Party’s support in parliament for the government. Parliament was then sent home last week by Italy’s president, and elections scheduled for 24-25 February.

Mr Monti’s announcement yesterday pleased some parties but angered others.

“Yet again, Monti shows himself to be arrogant and [Pontius] Pilate-like,” said Antonio Borghesi, leader of the small centre-left party that refused to back him. “He won’t directly commit himself, but he doesn’t rule out that his name be used by others who share his agenda and he gives his willingness, if asked, to again leader the country.”

The tiny centrist Italy Future party, meanwhile, hailed Mr Monti as a “great political leader and international statesman,” and said in a statement: “We reiterate our willingness to back with pride the agenda of premier Monti.”

Mr Monti himself expressed bewilderment that Mr Berlusconi alternated sharp condemnation of the government’s economic policies, with the seemingly contradictory offer to back another Monti-led government.

“Yesterday, we read that he assessed the work of the government to be a complete disaster. A few days earlier I read flattering things,” Mr Monti said. The logic of Mr Berlusconi’s positions “escapes me.”

Mr Monti praised parliament for backing his government’s recipe of spending cuts, new taxes and pension reform, which he said saved Italy from the debt crisis.

“Italians as citizens can hold their heads up high in Europe,” Mr Monti said, noting Italy had avoided the bailouts that Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus have had to take.

“We have always been convinced that Italy had, in itself, the resources” to succeed, Mr Monti said. “And that’s what happened.”