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ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti caved in to German pressure when he imposed austerity reforms, said his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, now stepping back into the spotlight ahead of an election due by next spring.
The billionaire media magnate, who quit last November amid a sex scandal involving an underage prostitute, is wanted by his People of Freedom (PDL) party to be its candidate for prime minister at a vote that must be held by end-April.
Berlusconi, who turns 76 on Saturday, said in an interview for the debut edition of Huffington Post's Italian website, that Monti's policies were "exclusively recessionary" and also that Germany should drop its austerity drive or leave the euro.
"With respect to Monti, I would have been less obedient to Germany, a hegemonic state that dictated to the other European countries the rules of rigor and austerity with the pretence that through austerity debt could be cut," Berlusconi said.
The four-time premier, who is still an Italian lawmaker although he rarely attends parliament, has not said whether he will stand for re-election.
Berlusconi repeated that a property tax introduced by Monti to shore up public accounts should be dropped, and said his party wanted more courage from Monti in stimulating growth.
With the support of a right-left coalition that includes the PDL, Monti took over as premier as Italian borrowing costs skyrocketed. He has since passed a pension reform, spending cuts and new taxes to save Italy from a Greek-like debt debacle.
The former economics professor and European commissioner remains Italy's most popular politician, according to an SWG poll last week. Monti's popular appeal rating rose 2 points to 42 percent in September, compared with 18 percent for Berlusconi, the poll found.
While Monti has repeatedly said he will return to academia when his term ends, businessmen have called for him to be brought into head whatever political bloc emerges victorious next year.
The PDL party trails the biggest left-wing bloc, the Democratic Party (PD), by 6 points, the SWG poll found.
Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Dan Lalor