After easily winning a vote of confidence in the upper house of parliament on Thursday, Italy’s new Prime Minister Mario Monti prepares for a crucial second vote in the lower house on Friday.
Prior to the vote, Monti informed MPs that he plans to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy next week to discuss Italy’s program to reduce debt and cut spending.
I'm not asking for a blind vote of confidence. We're asking for a vigilant vote of confidence, the former EU Commissioner said in a speech to the house.
But we think that if we do a good job, then you too, when you give us a vote of confidence or withdraw it, should remember what the consequences will be for citizens' confidence in you.”
Monti has also already vowed to crack down on tax evasion and reform the country’s pension plans in an effort to ease Italy’s massive debt (now totaling some 1.9-trillion euros, or 120 percent of GDP). He has promised to balance the budget by 2013, which would appear to be a very tall order.
Monti, who succeeded former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last week, has formed a cabinet consisting primarily of business executives, lawyers, bankers and academics, rather than career politicians.
Key members of the new cabinet include Corrado Passera, chief executive of Italy’s biggest bank, Intesa Sanpaolo group, who's now the chief of the new Ministry of Development, Infrastructure and Transport; Antonio Catricala, formerly the head of the anti-trust authority, who's now the cabinet under-secretary and Elsa Fornero, an economics professor, who's now the labor minister.
While Monti appears to have the support of most of Italy’s principal political parties (with the notable exception of the right-wing Northern League), Berlusconi may hover like a dark shadow over the new government.
Berlusconi has warned that if he disapproves of the path that Monti’s government takes, he will seek to bring it down somehow. Indeed, Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party has said that its support of the new government is conditional.
Monti might also have been seeking some divine intervention to push through his fiscal agenda. Early on Friday, the new Prime Minister met with the Pope at Rome's Fiumicino airport, ahead of the pontiff’s planned visit to West Africa.
Monti also faces stiff opposition from a hostile Italian public. On Thursday, thousands of students staged protest rallies in Rome, Milan and Palermo to express their anger over the imminent budget cuts and what they see as a “government run by bankers.”
However protests against the bankers' government by thousands of students across Italy on Thursday highlighted the problems the non-elected administration will face in pushing through painful austerity measures that will hit millions of Italians.