Italy’s outgoing prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has backed the choice of former European commissioner Mario Monti as his likely successor, saying Monti would work “in the country's interests”.
AFP - Italy's Mario Monti, now the frontrunner to replace Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister, is a former high-profile European commissioner who heads up Milan's prestigious Bocconi University.
Widely tipped to head up a technocratic national unity government in the next few days, he received Berlusconi's implicit endorsement Thursday, with the outgoing premier saying the economist would work "in the country's interests."
Affable but reserved, Monti contrasts starkly with the colourful media magnate, who has been heavily criticised for using his office for personal motives, neglecting Italy's problems and damaging its international reputation.
Monti was named a senator for life by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday based on his "merits in the social and scientific domains", and commentators say he is the man to clean up Italy's murky moral reputation.
Monti "is not a cold technocrat, he is a passionate Italian, ready to carry out the civil servant role without personal objectives. He brings ideas, not personal interests," said the Corriere della Sera daily for which he writes occasional columns.
The left-wing Repubblica newspaper noted: "What is most striking is the contrast between his sober character, his calm manner, and his courage to challenge national vices."
Emma Marcegaglia, the head of Italy's main employers' federation Confindustria, also offered Monti her backing saying that an election campaign now would be "very negative" for Italy on the markets.
While Monti enjoys wide support, not all political forces are in favour seeing him appointed prime minister.
Berlusconi's Northern League coalition partner has said it would prefer to go to early elections than have a technocrat government.
While the Future and Freedom (FLI) party -- which broke away from Berlusconi last year -- backs Monti, part of the premier's People of Freedom (PDL) party and the opposition Italy of Values party also oppose him.
Born on March 19, 1943 in Varese in northern Italy, he graduated in 1965 from Bocconi -- considered the training ground for Italy's economic elite. He went on to study at Yale in the United States with Nobel-winner James Tobin.
He began teaching at Turin University in 1970 and left in 1985 to become a professor in political economy at Bocconi where he became the dean in 1994.
The same year he was put forward as European commissioner by Berlusconi's first government and stayed on in Brussels even after Massimo D'Alema took over as prime minister -- giving him a reputation as being above party politics.
He has also passionately defended the euro and strongly supported Italy's membership -- only lamenting the fact that weak political leadership has often resulted in Rome being excluded from key decision making.
"If Italy had not been part of the euro, we would have by now a history of the last 12 years of more inflation, less disciplined policies and less respect for future generations. We would be irrelevant," he said in one of his columns.
"Italy has never been as critical to Europe's future, or as uninvolved in the decisions on Europe's future," he added.
Romano Prodi, a former prime minister and ex-European Commission president, gave him his blessing in an interview with La Repubblica daily on Saturday.
"Monti's time has come," Prodi told the newspaper. He said the 68-year-old could play a crucial role because he was "respected in Europe and the world."
Under Monti's leadership, the European Commission established a formidable trust-busting reputation taking on US giants Microsoft and General Electric.
Monti's image was that of an official with a keen understanding of business who could withstand the high levels of pressure needed for his post.
Aides described him as a courteous but fearsome figure who was difficult to interpret and was nicknamed "the cardinal" in Brussels.
"With very polite words, he can send you to the inquisition if he believes it is just and necessary," one former aide said.
In an article entitled "Super Mario" -- a moniker inherited by former Bank of Italy chief and current European Central Bank president Mario Draghi -- The Economist called him "one of the most powerful bureaucrats in Europe."
Date created : 2011-11-10