Mario Monti to lead Italy centrist coalition

Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti (28 Dec 2012) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mario Monti could return as prime minister if a centrist coalition were successful at the polls

Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti is to lead a coalition of centre parties going into a parliamentary election in February.

Speaking to reporters after four hours of talks with centrist politicians, he said he was willing to be "named leader of the coalition".

He resigned after 13 months as prime minister when predecessor Silvio Berlusconi withdrew his support.

The Vatican newspaper backs Mr Monti's bid to return as prime minister.

The BBC's David Willey, in Rome, says that Mr Monti clearly threw his hat into the political ring at a news conference on Friday evening.

"A new political formation has been born," Mr Monti said.

A single reform list, grouping together centrist parties, would stand for election to the Senate under the provisional title "Monti's agenda for Italy", he said.

But in the lower house, the chamber of deputies, there would be a coalition of centrist parties, including the Christian Democrat UDC.

As senator for life, Mr Monti cannot stand for election, but he is able to take part in the campaign and could return to the post of prime minister if a centrist coalition were successful.

He was brought in to form a technocratic government last year after the government of Silvio Berlusconi collapsed under pressure from the financial markets.

Mr Monti, a former economics professor and European Union Commissioner, was chosen to impose financial rigour on the economy.

Economic austerity

In power, he made some progress early on, including raising the retirement age and structural reforms.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Anti-mafia prosecutor Pietro Grasso (R) announced he was joining Pier Luigi Bersani's Democratic Party

But later policies were watered down and Mr Berlusconi and his centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party increasingly attacked Mr Monti's economic austerity.

Mr Monti has described his 13 months in office as "difficult but fascinating".

"The work we did... has made the country more trustworthy... more competitive and attractive to foreign investors," he said.

However ordinary Italians have been hard hit by the combination of tax rises and spending cuts Mr Monti has imposed to repair Italy's public finances and it is uncertain how well he will fare in the election on 24-25 February.

The left-wing Democratic Party (PD) is currently leading the opinion polls, while Silvio Berlusconi will lead the challenge from the right as head of his PDL party.

With observers suggesting that Mr Monti's centrist grouping could attract up to 15% of the vote, the election will be a three-way race, our correspondent says.

The Democratic Party received a boost earlier on Friday when anti-mafia prosecutor Pietro Grasso appeared alongside party leader Pier Luigi Bersani, saying he wanted to be "at the service of a country that has reached the maximum of confusion".

In stark contrast, Silvio Berlusconi continued to be troubled by his past, with press reports of his 36m euro-per-year divorce settlement with his ex-wife, Veronica Lario.

In another potential setback for Mr Berlusconi, an interview with him that was due to go out on Rai TV's main evening news was replaced by his successor's live news conference, La Repubblica newspaper reported.

Mr Monti was optimistic that the electorate would stick with him. He told an impromptu news conference that he expected his supporters could win a "significant result" in the election.

"The traditional split between left and right has historic and symbolic value," he said, "but does not highlight the real alliance that Italy needs - one that focuses on Europe, and on reforms".

"I'm with Italians who want change," he later tweeted.

Reaction from Italy's centrist leaders was positive.

The head of the Future and Freedom (FLI) party, Gianfranco Fini tweeted that the Monti coalition opened up a "prospect of renewal" while Christian Democrat leader Pierferdinando Casini said it was not so much "a personal party but a hope for Italians".

A spokesman for Mr Berlusconi's party, Angelino Alfano, said Mr Monti's remarks were a clear attempt to hide plans for an alliance with the left.

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