Italian PM wins second confidence vote

Mario Monti’s government decisively wins vote in lower house of parliament, a day after receiving support from Senate.

Mario Monti
Monti’s choice of unelected experts to lead the government have fuelled unrest among some Italians [Reuters]

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government has won a confidence vote in the lower house of parliament, a day after he laid out radical reforms to tackle the country’s debt crisis.

Monti on Friday mustered support from an overwhelming majority, winning 556 out of the 617 deputies in attendance, after an equally big win in the Senate on Thursday.

Al Jazeera’s Claudio Lavanga, reporting from Rome, said the support for Monti in the confidence vote was the highest since the introduction of Italy’s lower house of parliament in 1946.

“Monti said that sacrifices were needed more from those who have given less, meaning that he will introduce tax hikes that will hit particularly the richest in Italy’s society,” Lavango said.

“He will also try to cut privileges and the costs of politics, which are the highest in Europe.”

The former European Union commissioner told parliament that he would be going to Brussels next week to meet with the European Commission and the French and German leaders to map out his strategy for saving Italy from the debt crisis.

Monti, rushing to end a collapse in market confidence that has pushed Italy’s borrowing costs to critical levels, said on Thursday he would consider additional measures after fully implementing promises made to the EU but never carried through by his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi.

Monti’s cabinet of technocrats have been entrusted with the task of reducing Italy’s $2.6tn debt [Reuters]

He said he would target widespread tax evasion, sub-standard education and training and Italy’s weak welfare system, as well as reforming the labour market.

In Thursday’s 45-minute address, he said the key goals of his technocrat government would be to improve public services and help women and young people to get jobs.

Making clear that he would target cutting Italy’s huge public debt and stimulate growth, Monti said Italy had a higher average retirement age than in France and Germany, and that chronic tax evasion must be fought while reducing the overall tax burden.

He said he would also set out a schedule for the sale of public assets.

In another shot at a major problem with the Italian economy, Monti said the use of cash should be reduced to cut an underground economy that accounts for nearly 20 per cent of GDP.
Cabinet of technocrats

Monti, who unveiled a cabinet of technocrats on Wednesday, has been entrusted with the task of reducing a public debt of $2.6tn and restoring economic growth.

With Italy at the heart of the eurozone debt crisis, the measures Monti has announced are unlikely to be enough on their own to rebuild shattered market confidence.

Italy’s technocratic government

undefined Mario Monti – Prime minister and economy minister. Former European Commissioner

undefined Corrado Passera – Minister of development, infrastructure and transport. CEO of Italy’s largest retail bank, Intesa Sanpaolo

undefined Antonio Catricala – Cabinet undersecretary. Head of antitrust authority

undefined Elsa Fornero – Labour minister. Economics professor, University of Turin. Expert on welfare and pensions

undefined Giampaolo Di Paola – Defence minister. Navy admiral. Chairman of Nato Military Committee. Former Chief of Staff of Italian military

But they will be vital to restoring credibility with international partners who had long lost patience with the repeatedly unfulfilled promises of Berlusconi.

Monti took the key economy and finance portfolio himself and appointed Corrado Passera, chief executive of Intesa Sanpaolo, one of Italy’s big two banks, as industry minister in an unelected cabinet which contained no politicians.

Monti said on Wednesday he was confident that his new government would help restore confidence to panicked financial markets, but the task he faces was underlined by the continued surge in Italian bond yields.

Yields on the country’s 10-year bonds have hovered around seven per cent.

That level forced Greece and Ireland to seek an international bailout and would overwhelm the eurozone’s current financial defences if it were needed by Italy, the bloc’s third largest economy.

European leaders have welcomed the appointment of Monti, a sober and reserved economist and tough negotiator with a decade of experience as a European commissioner.

Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the eurozone finance ministers group, said he was pleased that Monti had taken the finance portfolio himself and described him as “the man for the situation”.

Monti has said he wants to serve until the next scheduled elections in 2013, but the refusal of the main parties to allow politicians to join his cabinet could make it harder to gain popular support for measures designed by unelected technocrats.

Protests and clashes

Monti’s choice of unelected experts to lead the government and the prospect of tough reforms have fuelled unrest among some Italians who have labeled his cabinet a “banker’s government”.

“[While Monti chose] decent and competent people [the government] is a little bit too free-market liberal. I am a bit scared”

– Titti Mazzacane, Italian teacher

Students clashed with police across Italy on Thursday in protests against budget cuts, while transport strikes idled buses and trains.

Police in riot gear scuffled with students in Milan, where they planned to march to Bocconi University, which forms Italy’s business elite. Monti is Bocconi’s president.

“The government of the banks,” read one placard held by a youth marching in the protest in Milan.

In Palermo, Sicily, demonstrators hurled eggs and smoke bombs at a bank, and protesters threw rocks at police who battled back with pepper sprays, the Italian news agency ANSA said.

One protester was injured in the head in Palermo, where police charged demonstrators who were trying to occupy another bank, it said.

In Rome, hundreds of students gathered outside Sapienza University, while others assembled near the main train station. They planned to march to the Senate.

Antonio Romano, who was distributing leaflets to protesters, said the government’s strategy was to “make the workers and retired people pay for the crisis, not those who provoked the crisis, I mean big business, bankers”.

University and high school students, as well as young people unable to find full-time jobs joined the protest.

In Rome, marcher Titti Mazzacane said she was sceptical about the new government.

While Monti chose “decent and competent people,” the government “is a little bit too free-market liberal. I am a bit scared,” said the 53-year-old elementary school teacher.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies