Monti’s appointment fits an established Italian pattern: fiscal laxity under populist center-right governments followed by brief emergency periods of technocratic austerity under the center-left and EU. To make fiscal responsibility stick this time, Brussels should back Monti as he builds up a popular mandate for gradual reform.
Observers have painted the outcome of the recent election -- a split so even that no party can form a government -- as a uniquely Italian farce. In fact, the impasse is the result of a Europe-wide trend: declining support for long-standing political parties in the wake of the economic crisis.
Mario Monti at the Fiat car factory in Melfi. (Courtesy Reuters)
Just over a year ago, Silvio Berlusconi cut a forlorn figure as he caved under the mounting pressure to resign as Italy's prime minister, making way for the elegant professor and former Eurocrat Mario Monti. His foes in the Italian and international media had a field day: The Economist announced "Hallelujah: Berlusconi Resigns," and the Financial Times declared that "il Bunga Bunga festa é finita" ("the Bunga Bunga party is over"). A common view was that Berlusconi's last bow was the end of an era; few predicted his return to frontline politics within little more than a year. On December 8, however, Berlusconi marked his reentrance on the scene by withdrawing his party group's support for the incumbent government, forcing Monti's resignation and the holding of early elections in February 2013, and announcing he would stand once again as a candidate for the prime ministership.
Berlusconi's latest theatrical gesture complicates the Italian political stage but is unlikely to be a game changer. Opinion polls give his Freedom Party (PDL) a little over 15 percent of the vote, a gain of less than two percent since Berlusconi's announcement and much less than half of its vote share (37 percent) in the 2008 election. The PDL could pick up votes between now and the election, especially if right-wing supporters of the Five Stars Movement, a loose group of populists under the leadership of the comedian Beppe Grillo, begin to worry about backing such a political novice. But Berlusconi is very unlikely to find himself in power for a fourth time...