© The Financial Times Ltd 2014 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
December 6, 2012 7:51 pm
Over the past 12 months, Mario Monti’s government has slowly led Italy back on to the path of economic credibility. The prime minister’s agenda of structural and fiscal reforms, helped by the decisive steps taken by the European Central Bank, means that foreign investors have resumed buying Italian bonds. One week ago, the interest rate on Rome’s 10-year paper fell to the lowest level in two years.
A chaotic day in parliament on Thursday risks marking the end of this virtuous evolution. Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party withdrew its support for the government on two separate votes. True, the decision to abstain or stay away in voting on these bills rather than opposing them meant the government did not fall. But Italy is back in political turmoil. Investors took fright, sending Rome’s bond yields up and shares on the Milan stock exchange down.
It is still unclear what lies behind Mr Berlusconi’s moves. His decision to boycott Thursday’s votes was preposterous, as his party had not previously opposed these bills. He may have decided to fire a warning shot at the government over future votes on blocking convicted criminals from running for parliament. He may also have sought to reassert his leadership over an increasingly fragmented party and to position it on an anti-Monti platform ahead of next spring’s general election.
If Mr Berlusconi had any shame, he would stop playing with his country’s present to protect his political future. Unfortunately, as his life has shown, Il Cavaliere does not do contrition. Last year, he took Italy to the brink of collapse. He would make no scruples about doing it again.
For this reason, the responsibility of stopping him lies with his allies. Some of them have tried to convince him to step aside from politics. Unfortunately, they have failed. Rather than tying their political future to that of their discredited leader, they should state they will support Mr Monti until the end of his government. They would then have the credibility to set up a new, reformed centre-right force. Italy needs this, rather than a new party led by Mr Berlusconi.
As for Mr Monti, he should not compromise with his predecessor. His proposal to exclude criminals from parliament is both right and popular. He should press ahead challenging Mr Berlusconi to vote against it. True, this may cost him his government. But voters will let Mr Berlusconi know what they think of him and his poisonous last move at the ballot box.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.