Italy’s Monti Open to Broad Coalition, Left Surges

Italian prime minister Mario Monti in Paris, France, August 3, 2012

Italian prime minister Mario Monti in Paris, France, August 3, 2012 (Elysée)

Italy’s technocrat prime minister Mario Monti said in a radio interview on Friday that he was willing to consider a broad coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative party, provided the former premier wasn’t part of it. Meanwhile, the left-wing Partito Democratico continued to rise in preelection polls which give it a plurality of the seats in both chambers of parliament.

Monti, a former European commissioner who replaced Berlusconi in November 2011 when the country appeared to teeter on the brink of sovereign default, said he had “no intention of making any agreement with parties that aren’t strongly reformist.” Berlusconi’s lackluster policy response to the European sovereign debt crisis was widely seen a little over a year ago as responsible for threatening to engulf Italy in it.

However, since Monti enacted austerity measures, including spending cuts but mostly tax increases, as well as labor market and pension reforms, many Italians have reconsidered. Berlusconi, who is leading the right-wing Il Popolo della Libertà into next month’s election, has improved his poll numbers by rallying against “German” austerity and the European Central Bank’s unwillingness to finance Italian deficit spending.

On the left, the Euroskeptic Five Star Movement has emerged as a strong contender with a similar massage, although the Partito Democratico‘s rise has sapped it of its previous 20 percent approval, down to 12 percent in a recent poll.

Monti, who enjoys the backing of a coalition of centrist parties in the election, urged Italians to stay the course. If Berlusconi were to resign, “one could easily imagine a collaboration” with Il Popolo della Libertà, he said. The party as well as Partito Democratico supported his government all through last year.

The conservative party’s secretary Angelino Alfano seemed appalled by the statement. “If there is anything that needs to be cleansed from Italy, it is Monti and his caretaker government,” he argued.

Il Popolo della Libertà pulled its support from Monti’s cabinet in December of last year, citing a collapse in home sales, economic contraction, raised taxes and the labor market reforms that were watered down under pressure from the left and its trade union supporters.

The left is nevertheless in the best position to claim the prime ministership and lead the country’s next coalition. A recent Demos survey gave it 35 percent of the seats even in the Senate where it has previously struggled to win a plurality. Berlusconi’s party is at 18 percent and Monti’s supporters at 16. Lega Nord, the secessionist party that backed Berlusconi’s previous governments, gets 6 percent in another poll. Nearly one out of three Italian voters are still undecided. Many of them voted for the conservatives in 2008.