The future of the euro in the hands of Italy's new leader

Mario Monti takes office as Berlusconi plots a bizarre political comeback

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Mario Monti was appointed the new Prime Minister of Italy last night, succeeding Silvio Berlusconi and beginning the unenviable task of hauling Italy – and the euro – back from the brink.

Confirmation of the unelected Mr Monti's appointment came hours before financial markets opened this morning, when Italy will attempt to sell another €3bn (£2.57bn) of bonds. In his first address as Italy's premier, he said that the embattled country needed to work together to give its children a "concrete future".

Mr Berlusconi resigned on Saturday evening after Italy's lower house of parliament voted through a package of deep spending cuts and tough economic reforms. After his resignation, he slipped out of the presidential palace through a side door in order to avoid hundreds of hecklers.

His departure paved the way for President Giorgio Napolitano to install a technocratic government led by Mr Monti, a 68-year-old former EU Competition Commissioner, which must not only implement cuts and labour reforms but must consider extending them to curb market pressure on Italy's $1.9trn (£1.18trn) of debts.

Initial resistance to an unelected technocrat running the country had subsided yesterday afternoon, with more MPs in Mr Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party coming round to the idea of a stop-gap Monti premiership.

As talks continued in Rome between the head of state and main political parties, the negotiations appeared to centre on how many cabinet posts Mr Monti would give to established political figures rather than academics or financiers. The PDL was pressing for the inclusion of Gianni Letta, Mr Berlusconi's political fixer. But this appeared less likely after centre-left parties objected.

Mr Monti, who gained a reputation for toughness at the EU, was asked yesterday whether he was excited at the prospect of being Italy's next premier. He responded obliquely: "Have you noticed what a beautiful day it is?"

Opposition MPs said the end of Mr Berlusconi's controversial 17-year political career marked a "new dawn".

The Adnkronos news agency reported that Mr Berlusconi had offered Mr Monti the support of all his PDL MPs, in exchange for guarantees on justice legislation – the clear implication being that Mr Berlusconi was hoping for pledges on criminal law that might help him escape convictions in his ongoing trials. Mr Monti refused the offer, the report said. Mr Berlusconi is due in court on 21 November in a bribery case.

Incredibly, there was even a suggestion the 75-year-old Mr Berlusconi may try and resurrect his political career. In a message to a meeting of a minor right-wing party, the former Prime Minister said: "I share your spirit and I hope to resume with you the path of government."

The new leader was appointed despite the opposition of the PDL's former coalition ally, the right-wing Northern League. Umberto Bossi, a long-time ally of Mr Berlusconi, said his party won't yet back any Monti-led government. "For now, we said 'No.' Then we'll see the programme and decide in due course," he said.