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A Cabinet of technocrats takes office in Italy

November 16, 2011 |  1:13 pm

Italy's new prime minister Mario Monti accepts a small bell Silvio Berlusconi
REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Italy swore in a Cabinet of technocrats  Wednesday as the nation scrambled to avoid an economic disaster that could torpedo the Eurozone.

In a solemn ceremony in Rome, former European Union official Mario Monti, a trained economist, took the oath of office as prime minister, alongside the team he has assembled to help him bring down a staggering level of government debt and restore investor confidence in the Eurozone’s third-largest economy.

Italy’s new Cabinet includes financiers, diplomats and business leaders,  but not a single elected politician.

The government takes over from that of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the flamboyant, scandal- and gaffe-prone leader who resigned last weekend after losing credibility with the financial markets, which have pushed Italy’s borrowing costs to punitive levels.

Monti, 68, is expected to set out his government’s agenda Thursday before the Italian senate, which will hold a vote of confidence. The lower house is to follow suit soon thereafter.

Monti said his action plan would emphasize economic growth. But it will also probably encompass difficult austerity measures apt to arouse popular ire, along with other controversial reforms to make Italy more competitive, such as wresting open some closed professions.

Although critics have called Italy’s new political arrangement undemocratic, backers hope that a technocratic, nonpartisan government can help rally Italy’s fractious political establishment around the common good.

“I hope that, governing well, we can make a contribution to the calming and the cohesion of the political forces,” said Monti, whom some have dubbed “Super Mario.”

But markets remain skeptical, keeping the interest rate on Italian bonds hovering around 7% on Wednesday, the tipping point for the three nations –- Greece, Portugal and Ireland -– that have had to seek international bailouts.

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-- Henry Chu

Photo: Italy's new prime minister, Mario Monti, left, accepts a small bell from his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, in Rome on Wednesday. Monti will use the bell to open his first session of the council of ministers. Credit: Alessia Pierdomenico / Bloomberg

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