Mario Monti and his government of technocrats won their first vote of confidence on Thursday after the recently sworn-in prime minister presented an ambitious program to stimulate economic growth before the Italian Senate, urging lawmakers to set aside politics in favor of national unity and responsibility as Italy and Europe face a moment of “serious emergency.”
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Monti, an economist and former European Commissioner, said his government would work to change Italy’s labor market and pension system, fight tax evasion, and make it easier for businesses to grow. Monti also urged Europe to consider the risks involved in leaving Italy to its own fate.
“The future of the euro depends on what Italy does in the next few weeks. Partly, not only, but partly,” said Monti, warning that “the end of the euro would unravel the single market, its rules, its institutions, and would take us back to where we were in the 1950s.”
Monti urged Italian lawmakers to back his “government of national commitment,” shortly after which his government won a confidence vote in the upper house of parliament by a landslide, 281 votes to 25. Only one party, the right-wing Northern League, withheld its support from Monti, who faces a second vote in the lower house — the Chamber of Deputies — on Friday.
In presenting his plan for economic reform, Monti told Italians to expect to make sacrifices in the coming months, but pledged those sacrifices would be fair and evenly spread. Such changes would involve changes to the labor market, welfare benefits, and pension and fiscal systems.
Addressing what he considered to be a fundamental cause of Italy’s slow growth, Monti said his government would work to grant young people and women greater access to the workplace. “They are the two great wasted resources of the country,” he said.
Monti’s two-pronged course of action would include measures to restore market confidence in Italy in the short term, as well as investments in structure changes that would help in the long term.
Some of Monti’s proposed long-term projects include deregulating closed professional guilds, thus opening them to competition, and improving the efficiency of public sector services.
Monti also said his government would probably have to reintroduce a property tax on first homes, while also rooting out tax evaders, a task Monti said would lead to the reduction of fiscal pressure on businesses and fixed-income employees and pensioners.
Sticking to his promise that sacrifices would be fair and evenly spread, Monti said cuts to the costs of elected officials, as well as public administration, would be “unavoidable.”
Monti’s speech, his refusal to sanitize the harsh truth of Italy’s economic challenges, was a breath of fresh air for Italians, as former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, right up to his resignation, tended to downplay the situation. As recently as two weeks ago, Berlusconi said Italy was a wealthy country where “restaurants are full of people.”
Conversely, Monti presented a picture of an economy with higher youth unemployment than in other European countries, with wealth disparately distributed between a wealthier north and a poorer south, and with growth lagging for the last decade.
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Consisting mostly of academics, bankers, top-level civil servants — all experts in their fields — and not a single politician, Monti expressed his hope that the apolitical nature of his government would be able to help Parliament regain a measure of concord and “reconcile citizens and institutions to politics.”