Berlusconi says support for Monti government


  • World
  • Sunday, 20 Nov 2011

ROME (Reuters) - Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Sunday Mario Monti's technocrat government might not survive until scheduled elections in 2013 if it promoted reforms opposed by his centre-right party.

Berlusconi was forced to resign before jeering crowds last weekend as Italy's debt crisis began to spiral out of control, but he remains a powerful political force thanks to his PDL party, the largest in parliament.

Monti has agreed to one of Berlusconi's demands and promised in the presence of the Italian president that he would not run as a candidate when elections are held, the former premier told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

"Monti cannot afford to not listen to us. The PDL is the biggest party in parliament and will be an irreplaceable point of reference for this government," he said in an interview with the daily.

"Monti must get to 2013 ... Certainly if Monti takes measures that run against the line of the parties supporting him, such as the wealth tax, it won't be able to go ahead."

Monti, who also holds the economy portfolio, has outlined a series of reforms to shore up public finances and said he wants to shift the overall burden of tax away from labour costs to assets and consumption.

Owner of a vast media empire and one of Italy's richest men, Berlusconi has long opposed a wealth tax.

He said his party had also asked the new government to push for transforming the European Central Bank into a "lender of last resort" to save the euro, a role it has resisted so far.

Monti avoided a question last week about whether he backed the idea, but said he saw no need to change the current ordering of the ECB's role.

The PDL has also asked Monti to push for a review of the European Union's banking regulator norms that are "suffocating the Italian banks," Berlusconi said.

SELF-DEFENCE

Asked if he would run for elections again in 2013, Berlusconi said the PDL candidate would be chosen by its members but that he expected Angelino Alfano, a loyalist who served as his justice minister, to win the candidacy.

In the interview - his first wide-ranging remarks since resigning - Berlusconi also defended his scandal-plagued term in power that analysts say cost Italy credibility in the eyes of investors.

"Everyone has been able to see that the (bond) spread has remained high even after I resigned: evidently our government was not at fault at all," he said.

He dismissed a comment where he called Italy a "shitty country" as a "bit of slang" and said he was misinterpreted when he branded left-wing voters "coglioni" -- a vulgar term.

"I've had religious education and they've taught me never to insult anyone," he said.

He also launched a familiar defence of his flamboyant lifestyle, blaming the foreign media for "ruining my image with things that are absolutely not true."

Berlusconi, who is on trial on charges of paying for sex with an underaged belly dancer, said he thought the man suspected of procuring him prostitutes was just a playboy who brought beautiful women to dinner with the prime minister.

Berlusconi, who frequently says he has sacrificed himself to save Italy from Communists, also expressed relief that he was no longer in power.

Asked how he felt about another man occupying the top, Berlusconi said: "From now when it rains, I won't be considered the thief anymore."

(Reporting by Deepa Babington and Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Tim Pearce and Elizabeth Piper)

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