Italy's Monti calls for "radical reforms" in campaign launch

ROME Sun Jan 20, 2013 2:31pm EST

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ROME Jan 20 (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti launched his campaign for a second term on Sunday with a speech calling for deep-rooted reforms to kick start economic growth, four weeks ahead of a parliamentary election.

"Italy needs radical reforms. Radical reforms for those who are outside protected interest groups, and for young people who cannot find work because others are over-protected," the economist said at the launch of his campaign for the February 24-25 vote.

In an interview with the premier on Sunday, daily Corriere della Sera said Monti planned to try to modify a labour reform that was watered down during a lengthy passage through parliament last year. Monti said only that nothing had been decided.

In his speech Monti said he would push for a "drastic reduction" of the number of parliamentarians and a rearrangement of the Italian state to make it "less onerous". Such reforms have long had broad cross-party support, but have stalled in parliament.

The head of a technocrat government appointed in November 2011 to rescue Italy from a Greek-style meltdown with austerity and reforms, Monti said he would stick to cutting the country's debt burden but that Italians could look forward to a gradual reduction in taxes.

The promise came after a week in which support for the centre-right party of rival Silvio Berlusconi rose two points to 17.7 percent according to a Friday poll by SWG. Berlusconi repeatedly promised to abolish a much-hated property tax introduced by Monti to mend Italian public finances.

The event in the northern steel-making town of Dalmine sought to present the sober economics professor as the man who could re-establish Italy as a competitive manufacturing country after years of economic stagnation.

Yet with just 13.7 percent of the vote according to the SWG poll, Monti's centrist movement will likely need to join a coalition in order to be part of the next government.

A possible partner is the centre-left coalition led by Democratic leader Pier Luigi Bersani, which has 33 percent support.

However, a deep recession, high unemployment and disgust at a political class marred by years of scandals is also driving support for the anti-establishment 5 Star movement of comedian Beppe Grillo, which is now Italy's third largest party but has yet to be tested in parliament.

Founded in 2009, the citizens' movement proved itself a force to be reckoned with when it emerged as the single largest party in regional elections in Sicily in October, seen as a possible precursor to the February vote.

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