Italy's Monti Plots Return With New Coalition

Mario Monti
Andreas Solaro| AFP | Getty Images
Mario Monti

Outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said Friday he would lead a coalition of centrist parties who support his European and reform-minded agenda in the parliamentary election in two months' time.

The announcement clarifies Monti's involvement in the vote, after he said Sunday that he may be willing to seek a second term if a credible political force backed his reform agenda.

"The traditional left-right split has historic and symbolic value" for the country, but "it does not highlight the real alliance that Italy needs — one that focuses on Europe and reforms," Monti said after a meeting with centrist politicians.

The former European commissioner, appointed at the head of a technocrat government last year to save Italy from financial crisis, said he was willing to accept "being named as leader of the coalition".

Monti, whose status as senator for life means he does not have to run for a seat in parliament himself, said the grouping could win a "significant result" in the election, scheduled for Feb. 24-25.

The announcement clears up some of the uncertainty hanging over the election and puts Monti at the center of a three-way contest for power with the center-left Democratic Party (PD), which is leading in the polls, and Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party.

Both parties supported his government in parliament, but with elections fast approaching, the gloves have come off, with Berlusconi hammering away at Monti's "Germano-centric" austerity policies, which he blames for deepening a severe recession.

One opinion poll published since the weekend estimated that a centrist coalition led by Monti could hope to gain between 11 and 15 percent of the vote.

The 69-year-old economics professor has been widely credited for restoring Italy's international credibility after the scandal-plagued Berlusconi years.

However, ordinary Italians have become increasingly tired of the mix of tax hikes and spending cuts he has imposed to repair Italy's battered public finances.

Monti said that there would be a single list of candidates, possibly called "Monti's agenda for Italy," in the upper house, while he would probably be the prime minister candidate for a coalition of established parties in the lower house.

Technical aspects of the electoral law are the reason for the slightly different groupings in the two houses, he said.