REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Italy’s new technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti won a second decisive vote of confidence Friday from the chamber of deputies. The new non-political Cabinet received 556 votes in favor with 61 against, most of the latter from ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s former coalition partners.
The Italian Senate gave the new government a first lopsided victorious vote on Thursday, already showing political approval for the non-elected leadership.
Monti’s lineup of ministers was ushered into power over the last week following the resignation of the flamboyant Berlusconi, whose period in power at the head of his People of Liberty party was punctuated by court cases involving him in fraud and sex scandals, the country’s rising public debt and political controversy.
The new government, composed entirely of legal and economic experts, diplomats and academics, may be welcomed by politicians but has yet to win public approval.
A former European Union commissioner and himself an economics professor who once headed the prestigious Bocconi University in Milan, Monti has won international respect for his economic expertise. He faces the daunting task of reestablishing credibility abroad in Italy’s economy while convincing the Italian electorate to accept harsh cutbacks in social welfare and pensions.
The parliamentary votes of confidence came with a background of violent street protests from angry students and others across the country furious at budget cuts they see as further undermining their already dwindling economic prospects.
Monti urged politicians Friday to work together. “It’s an almost impossible task, but we can do it,” he said in a measured but decisive speech, asking lawmakers to offer a vote that was “not blind but vigilant.”
Assuring them that he would not remain in the post for the long term, he told parliament that his aim was to offer “a permanent contribution from Italy towards the solution of the euro problems.”
“We will last as long as you want,” he said, adding, “My intention is to project my government team ... from here to the elections.” The next elections are scheduled for 2013.
He plans to take a package of budget reforms aimed at addressing the country’s $2.6-trillion public debt to a meeting next week with EU Council President Herman van Rompuy, and to talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The package includes pension reform measures as well as a loosening of labor laws, as well as plans for combating tax evasion and a black market economy that is rife in Italy. He also hopes to lighten business taxes, reduce politicians’ allowances and impose property taxes.
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: New Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti talks on the phone during a visit to parliament Friday. Credit: Alessandro Di Meo / EPA