REPORTING FROM LONDON — The Italian Senate on Thursday gave final approval to the country's severe austerity budget and passed a vote of confidence in the newly appointed government of former banker Mario Monti.
The budget won overwhelming approval with a vote of 257 to 41.
The $43-billion "Save Italy" budget package was produced by Monti, who was recently appointed both prime minister and finance minister, and his cabinet of professional financiers, diplomats and professors. It is aimed at balancing the nation's budget by 2013.
Its controversial measures of tax hikes and delayed pension payments were raucously contested in recent days by the opposition Northern League and Italy’s labor unions, who staged strikes and demonstrations in protest the spending cuts, pension reforms and changes to employment law.
Monti’s unelected government, which replaced Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition government just five weeks ago, has the support of a majority in Parliament, where there is broad acknowledgment that swift approval of drastic budget measures by year’s end was necessary to ease Italy’s massive $2.5-trillion debt.
Italy, the third-largest economy in the Eurozone, and Greece have been among the most troubled economies in Europe, and their efforts to rein in debt are considered key to restoring faith in the euro.
Photo: Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, left, smiles with ministers at the end of a confidence vote at the Senate in Rome on Thursday. Credit: Andreas Solaro / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images