ROME Nov 14 Mario Monti, the economist
who will head an emergency Italian government following the
departure of Silvio Berlusconi, brings credentials earned in a
decade of battles as a European Commissioner from the 1990s.
Monti made his name as the powerful Competition Commissioner
who took on U.S. corporate titans General Electric and
Microsoft, blocking GE's planned merger with rival Honeywell and
imposing a record 497 million euro ($683 million) antitrust fine
on the software giant.
His technical expertise, sharp intellect and diplomatic
skills added to his refusal to bow to intense lobbying pressures
made him one of the most highly regarded officials the
Commission has seen.
"He didn't have a very Italian way of going about things,"
recalls one former ambassador, who worked with Monti in Brussels
and remembers him as a hard but reliable negotiating partner.
"His nickname in those days was 'The Italian Prussian'".
He was nominated by Berlusconi as internal markets
commissioner in 1994, taking over the competition portfolio in
1999 where he served for five years.
Named last week as Senator for Life by President Giorgio
Napolitano, Monti, 68, is expected to appoint a small cabinet
made up largely of technical specialists to steer Italy through
a crisis that has brought it to the brink of financial disaster.
A similar technocrat government under former Bank of Italy
official Lamberto Dini passed important reforms in 1995 and the
hope of many outside Italy is that Monti can do the same.
A convinced free marketeer with close connections to the
European and global policy-making elite, Monti has always backed
a more closely integrated euro zone and has written a series of
articles in recent months lambasting the Berlusconi government's
He is chairman of the European branch of the Trilateral
Commission, a body that brings together the power elites of the
United States, Europe and Japan and is also a member of the
secretive Bilderberg Group of business leaders and other
With bond markets pushing Rome ever closer to the point
where it would need an international bailout to manage its
towering public debt, investors' hopes have been pinned on a
solution that would get past Italy's dysfunctional politics.
Italy's main business and banking associations have called
for a "national emergency government" with broad parliamentary
backing, warning that "this is not the moment for conflict and
Monti himself underlined the temptation of a non-political
solution in an article in August entitled "Il podesta
forestiero", a reference to the foreign governors or "podestas"
appointed by the strife-torn Italian cities of the Middle Ages.
The article referred to reform demands imposed by the
European Central Bank in return for its agreement to prop up
Italian bonds in the markets, but it highlighted the widespread
frustration at the failings of Italy's political class.
But, as numerous politicians have pointed out over the past
few days, the notion of a pure "technical government" above the
daily fray is an illusion which is likely to be severely tested
in the weeks and months ahead.
"He has a good feeling for how politics works but he isn't a
man for horse trading," said one longtime associate.
New elections are not due until 2013, giving Monti and his
cabinet a window of around 18 months to implement the kind of
painful reforms to pensions, labour laws and the public sector
that markets and Italy's European partners are demanding.
But he will need to secure the support of a parliament which
has not won a reputation for a high-minded sense of public
responsibility over recent years. If he loses a confidence vote
in parliament, elections early next year may be inevitable.
So far, Monti has the backing of the centre-left Democratic
Party and the smaller centrist groups, and the secretary of
Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom party -- badly split
by the crisis -- has said the party will support him.
The regional pro-devolution Northern League has said it will
wait to see what Monti's programme looks like. But outgoing
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a senior League leader, said
Monti faced an uphill battle.
"The decisions which Monti will take must pass in parliament
and I think that with such a heterogeneous majority he will have
many problems. I believe this solution will lead to many
problems," he said.