Economist Mario Monti has been sworn in as Italy’s new prime minister, with a mandate to restore stability to the country’s economy and respectability to its politics.
At European Union headquarters in early October he was an affable and popular Italian university president.
Little did anyone there know that a few weeks later he would be appointed to the Italian Senate, and almost immediately asked to be the country’s next prime minister.
Monti said that during “a moment of particular difficulty,” he wants to restore Italy’s economic strength, with a focus on growth.
That was the topic of the conference in Brussels, where said there must be more to Europe’s recovery plan than just austerity in the troubled economies.
“The whole apparatus that it was necessary to set up in order to ensure fiscal discipline maybe has not paid enough attention to some growth elements, like public investments," said Monti.
The French and German leaders, heading two of Europe’s strongest economies, are the most insistent advocates of austerity in Italy and the other troubled countries. Before he knew he’d be joining their ranks, Mr. Monti had this evaluation of European leaders’ performance during the crisis.
“They are on a good track, I must say, relative to the past," he said. "They need to do more in terms of, each of them, reasoning as a co-decision maker in Europe, and not just as a national leader.”
Monti’s stature and experience no doubt helped him in meetings to garner support for his new government.
He is a strong advocate of European economic integration, and spent 10 years as a senior EU economics official. The 68-year-old economist is also a corporate adviser and a member of several top-level international groups of senior officials and business executives. But he has never before held office in Rome.
Italian-born political economist Leila Simona Talani of London’s King’s College says Mr. Monti is the right man for what she calls her home country’s “slightly desperate” situation.
“He is a personality that could give some credibility to the Italian economic policy making and reassure the markets and also implement policies that have meaning, meaningful policies, especially liberalization," said Talani.
That dose of credibility is needed after the long and tumultuous tenure of Silvio Berlusconi, who was forced to resign because of the economic crisis.
In the VOA interview, Mr. Monti indicated he wants to rebuild the relationships that have been damaged by the crisis.
“It’s of great importance not to allow the tensions associated with the euro zone crisis, and sometimes the bad feelings among various people and member states, lead to some fragmentation or backward movement in the single market," said Monti. "This would be devastating for Europe.”
Mr. Monti’s task will not be easy. Like their neighbors in Greece, some Italians have taken to the streets to express their anger at the austerity plan the new prime minister will have to implement. And investors will be watching closely to see whether his policies and his leadership are strong enough to ease their concerns about Italy’s financial future.