Europe News

Mario Monti Tapped to Lead Italy Out of Debt Crisis

Rachel Donadio|The New York Times

ROME — A day after accepting the resignation of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s president on Sunday asked Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner, to form a government charged with helping defend Italy from Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

Statue and Italian Flag in front of Vittorio Emanuele monument.
Ian Cumming | Getty Images

President Giorgio Napolitano formally tapped Monti on Sunday evening after a day of meetings with political leaders across the spectrum, almost all of whom had pledged their support for a government of technocrats to guide Italy into its post-Berlusconi future.

“The president of the republic...has received Senator Mario Monti and conferred a mandate to form a government,” said a statement from the presidential palace, according to Reuters.

Monti told reporters in Rome that he would get to work quickly to try to form a new government. Italy must “heal its finances” and resume growth because today’s leaders owe it to future generations, The Associated Press quoted him as saying.

But in a sign of political wrangling to come, the leader of Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party said that the party would support a Monti government only for as long as it could fulfill its mandate to push through measures to help reduce Italy’s $2.6 trillion public debt and increase growth to keep the country competitive. The party had been pushing for early elections, while media reports say Mr. Monti hopes to serve until the end of the current legislature in 2013.

Berlusconi addressed the nation in a video message on Sunday evening, declaring his “love and passion” for Italy and his bitterness at having been jeered on Saturday after he tendered his resignation, an act he said had been one of “generosity” toward the country.

European leaders had come to see Berlusconi as a liability to Italy and the single currency, as Italy’s borrowing rates soared last week to levels that have forced other euro zone countries to seek bailouts. Months of political deadlock broke last week when Berlusconi lost his majority in a technical vote in the Lower House. Humbled, Berlusconi resigned on Saturday after Parliament approved the austerity measures.

On Monday, Monti was expected to present a cabinet of non-politicians and introduce his program before Parliament, where a majority must vote confidence in his government.

In his video address, Berlusconi said the crisis had hit the euro, not just Italy, and he called on the European Central Bank to do more to help save the euro.

In a letter to a right-wing leader published on the Italian news agency ANSA on Sunday, Berlusconi blamed the loss of his control of the Parliament on a breakaway group led by a former ally who split from his People of Liberty party in 2010.

The group, Berlusconi said, was driven by “the logic of petty blackmail” and “trasformismo,” a storied Italian tradition in which politicians change their positions to suit the demands of the moment, which he called “the oldest vice of Italian politics,” ANSA reported.

Such “trasformismo” was a guiding principle of the revolving-door governments of Italy’s postwar period and into the 1990s, after the collapse of the old political order in a bribery scandal and with the end of the cold war.

It was eclipsed in the Berlusconi years, aided by a 2005 electoral law that helped create the semblance of a two-party system.

In a noted change from the tenor of the Berlusconi government, which in recent years has been overshadowed by the prime minister’s sex scandals, Monti attended Mass on Sunday with his wife in the church of Sant’Ivo in Rome’s historic center.

Many Italians awoke to what they felt was a new day in Italian politics, even if many did not quite believe that Berlusconi, a mainstay in their lives for nearly two decades, was really gone.

Some young Italians who increasingly feel shut out of their own futures in a labor market that protects older workers, took Berlusconi’s departure as a good sign.

“We’ve been following what happened since the summer with growing concern. The government’s complete immobility, deafness and incapability to understand reality and act accordingly was very scary,” said Laura Calderoni, 36, an architect in Rome.

“We are part of the brain drain generation, but I kept on telling all my friends, ‘don’t flee, it will be over,’ ” Ms. Calderoni said. “A fairer country starts with citizens like us that build their lives here and believe in it.”

Others said Italy’s problems did not begin with Berlusconi and would not end with Mr. Monti. “I just think that Berlusconi is not the root of all our economic evil,” said Anna Costeri, 43, a dental hygienist from Sardinia who was visiting Rome and said she had voted for a right-wing party in the past.

“I am not that hopeful that someone so close to rating agencies and the banks can do our best interest,” she added of Mr. Monti.