While speculation over Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s prospective successor abounds, respected academic and former EU competition commissioner Mario Monti has surfaced as the favourite.
The eminent economist and academic Mario Monti was made a senator for life on Wednesday, a move that for some observers signals an approaching political changeover in the crisis-stricken country.
Monti was hailed by President Giorgio Napolitano for his "merits in the social and scientific domains", and the nomination was widely seen as a first step in Monti's journey to replace Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Long under fire over a long list of scandals, but pushed to the brink over Italy’s massive debt, Berlusconi agreed on Wednesday to resign from his post once lawmakers approved the austerity measures prescribed by the European Union.
Monti, for his part, may be mandated to form a government of national unity as early as Saturday, according to sources quoted by Reuters.
Monti, 68, currently heads Milan's prestigious Bocconi University, which is widely considered the training ground for Italy's financial elite. A Yale-trained economist, he is widely regarded in Italy as an honest and capable technocrat.
The academic also boasts international credentials, having served as the EU’s commissioner for market, customs and taxation from 1995-1999 and the competition commissioner from 1999-2004.
PROFILE: MARIO MONTI
He earned a reputation as a tenacious EU official after initiating anti-monopoly inquiries against US computer giant Microsoft and blocking General Electric’s merger with Honeywell in 2001.
His tenure in Brussels under the governments of both Berlusconi and former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi also earned him the image of being above party politics.
As a newly appointed senator Monti was expected to make his political debut in Rome on Friday when he takes part in a vote on the economic reforms that will usher Berlusconi's departure.
If he takes over as prime minister, the numerous challenges he would have to face include reforming the pensions and public spending systems, as well as fighting endemic corruption and cronyism.
In search of consensus
The nomination of Monti and his potential fast-tracking to the premiership were welcomed by politicians across the political spectrum. President Napolitano said Monti's senatorial nomination was co-signed by Berlusconi.
But 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 the Italian economy.
According to Massimo Nava, a business columnist for the Corriere della Sera daily, the political consensus that Monti epitomises is a much-needed asset in Italy’s struggle to weather the sovereign debt crisis. With a debt that now exceeds €2.2 trillion, Italy’s debt is one of the largest in the world.
However, not all political forces were in favour of Monti's probable appointment. Berlusconi's Northern League coalition partner warned it would not accept a government led by Monti and that it preferred to go to early elections than have a technocrat government.
Date created : 2011-11-10