Italy's new Prime Minister, Mario Monti, was set to unveil his economic programme today while facing an early challenge in the form of a trade union strike over reforms aimed at staving off bankruptcy.
Monti's new technocratic Government, sworn in yesterday under intense pressure from financial markets and global leaders to save Italy from possible economic ruin, will face a confidence vote in the Senate at 8.30am NZT. It will then go to a vote in the Lower House.
Monti, who replaced Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister, is expected to easily win the votes but could face a political backlash when he moves to implement painful and long-delayed economic reforms.
Italy has handed over control to an Administration of unelected technocrats with strong links to Brussels and international finance. The Cabinet contains not a single elected politician.
After being asked to form a Government by President Giorgio Napolitano, following the collapse of Berlusconi's discredited centre-right Administration, it was believed Monti, a 68-year-old economist, might recruit some established politicians as ministers. When asked why his Cabinet contained no parliamentary figures, Monti said his talks with party leaders suggested "the non-presence of politicians in the Government would help it".
"This Government with ties to banks, to business, to the Vatican, to private universities - to the usual names - is the opposite of what this country needs," said Paolo Ferrero, leader of the far-left Rifondazione Comunista party.
But Roberto D'Alimonte, political science professor at Rome's LUISS University, approved of the Cabinet line-up. "All these people are very high-calibre, and highly respected, independent," he said.
Outspoken criticism of the new Government was generally thin on the ground. Much of the Italian public appeared to accept that exceptional measures were necessary, with the mainstream political parties tacitly admitting they would not be able to carry the required reforms through Parliament. A poll by IPR Marketing showed that more than half of Italians - 53 per cent - back the Monti Administration.
Concerns over the degree of EU influence on Italy's internal affairs may have been fed by remarks from the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who said it was "to be hoped that Monti will implement Italy's pledges to tackle its debt and restore market confidence". Many leading pundits were of the view, however, that a Monti-led Administration offered Italy its best chance of doing just that.
"A lot of what Monti plans to introduce will hurt," said Franco Panvoncello, a professor of politics at John Cabot University in Rome. "But it will be tempered by the fact they will combine the cuts with things such a wealth tax to make Italy a fairer place."
Corrado Passera, chief executive of Italy's biggest retail bank Intesa Sanpaolo, will head up a reinforced economic development, transport and infrastructure ministry charged with boosting growth.
- INDEPENDENT, AFP