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Published on January 10th, 2013 | by Katharina Obermeier
Image © [caption id="attachment_11591" align="alignnone" width="566"] © (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca), Italian Premier Mario Monti[/caption]   Football fans may associate the term “Super Mario” with Mario Balotelli, but in European policy-making circles, that moniker is reserved for Mario Monti, Italy’s (still) Prime Minister. The admiration for Monti among EU leaders may be partially due to his former career as a European Commissioner, and is even more likely due to the fact that he represents such a contrast to his predecessor, the infamous Silvio Berlusconi. Now, however, the tables might turn, as Monti is set to resign after Berlusconi’s party withdrew its support from the coalition government and Berlusconi is gearing up to stand for election once again in early 2013. The irony of the situation is that Italian voters may welcome this development. After all, Monti has one clear failing in the eyes of Italian voters: he is an unelected technocrat. “Super Mario” Monti first became head of the Italian government in November 2011. At the time, Rome was figuratively burning. The country’s borrowing costs were spinning out of control, with investors rapidly losing confidence in the state’s ability to cover its debt despite earlier budget cuts. With the eurozone crisis raging, many tipped Italy as the next EU member state to go over the edge and require a bail-out. This in turn was a very frightening development for the eurozone – Italy is the fourth biggest economy in the EU and the loans required to keep it from bankruptcy would have placed a very heavy burden on the rest of the currency union. At the height of the country’s breakdown, Berlusconi was no longer able to command the confidence of the Italian Parliament and resigned in disgrace, embroiled in various scandals including allegations of tax fraud and statutory rape. Faced with a crisis situation, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called on Mario Monti to form a government of technocrats until the next round of elections, scheduled for 2013. Whether or not this was the best course of action is debatable, but there is no denying that the new Prime Minister managed to pull the country out of a disastrous situation. The country’s cost of borrowing funds recently dropped to their lowest levels since May 2011, bringing them down to a sustainable level. Monti took on areas in which Italy has long required reforms, pushing through labour market and anti-corruption legislation, as well as tough austerity measures in the form of tax increases. While his critics point out that Italy’s economy is still contracting, and that its potential for growth has not improved since Berlusconi was in power, it should be noted that there is no EU country which has been able to recover from this kind of crisis without a long and painful economic contraction. Of course, difficult reforms have not made him popular among parts of the Italian electorate, who point to his time as an advisor to Goldman Sachs as a sign of his adherence to neoliberal market principles and lack of commitment to the Italian people. This type of commentary, however, completely overlooks Monti’s achievements and engagement at EU level. In eurozone and EU summit meetings, he consistently fought for measures that would help Italy and other crisis-struck EU countries in their plight, such as allowing the European Central Bank to buy indebted countries’ government bonds, recapitalisation for eurozone banks and giving the European Stability Mechanism a banking license. In many cases, he has been the most powerful counter-voice to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her hawkish colleagues, persuasively representing the interests of European citizens most affected by the crisis. Rumour has it that Monti is now planning to run for election as part of the centrist UDC party, against Silvio Berlusconi. While this is welcome news, it is far from certain that he could actually win the popular vote in Italy. In fact, the very characteristic that helped him save the country from ruin – dedication to good economic sense, unswayed by the prospect of garnering votes or pandering to vested interests – is unlikely to win him the approval of Italian voters. They may well choose the charismatic populist Berlusconi over the careful technocrat Monti.

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In Praise of the Technocrat

© (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca), Italian Premier Mario Monti

 

Football fans may associate the term “Super Mario” with Mario Balotelli, but in European policy-making circles, that moniker is reserved for Mario Monti, Italy’s (still) Prime Minister. The admiration for Monti among EU leaders may be partially due to his former career as a European Commissioner, and is even more likely due to the fact that he represents such a contrast to his predecessor, the infamous Silvio Berlusconi. Now, however, the tables might turn, as Monti is set to resign after Berlusconi’s party withdrew its support from the coalition government and Berlusconi is gearing up to stand for election once again in early 2013. The irony of the situation is that Italian voters may welcome this development. After all, Monti has one clear failing in the eyes of Italian voters: he is an unelected technocrat.

“Super Mario” Monti first became head of the Italian government in November 2011. At the time, Rome was figuratively burning. The country’s borrowing costs were spinning out of control, with investors rapidly losing confidence in the state’s ability to cover its debt despite earlier budget cuts. With the eurozone crisis raging, many tipped Italy as the next EU member state to go over the edge and require a bail-out. This in turn was a very frightening development for the eurozone – Italy is the fourth biggest economy in the EU and the loans required to keep it from bankruptcy would have placed a very heavy burden on the rest of the currency union. At the height of the country’s breakdown, Berlusconi was no longer able to command the confidence of the Italian Parliament and resigned in disgrace, embroiled in various scandals including allegations of tax fraud and statutory rape. Faced with a crisis situation, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called on Mario Monti to form a government of technocrats until the next round of elections, scheduled for 2013. Whether or not this was the best course of action is debatable, but there is no denying that the new Prime Minister managed to pull the country out of a disastrous situation. The country’s cost of borrowing funds recently dropped to their lowest levels since May 2011, bringing them down to a sustainable level. Monti took on areas in which Italy has long required reforms, pushing through labour market and anti-corruption legislation, as well as tough austerity measures in the form of tax increases. While his critics point out that Italy’s economy is still contracting, and that its potential for growth has not improved since Berlusconi was in power, it should be noted that there is no EU country which has been able to recover from this kind of crisis without a long and painful economic contraction.

Of course, difficult reforms have not made him popular among parts of the Italian electorate, who point to his time as an advisor to Goldman Sachs as a sign of his adherence to neoliberal market principles and lack of commitment to the Italian people. This type of commentary, however, completely overlooks Monti’s achievements and engagement at EU level. In eurozone and EU summit meetings, he consistently fought for measures that would help Italy and other crisis-struck EU countries in their plight, such as allowing the European Central Bank to buy indebted countries’ government bonds, recapitalisation for eurozone banks and giving the European Stability Mechanism a banking license. In many cases, he has been the most powerful counter-voice to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her hawkish colleagues, persuasively representing the interests of European citizens most affected by the crisis.

Rumour has it that Monti is now planning to run for election as part of the centrist UDC party, against Silvio Berlusconi. While this is welcome news, it is far from certain that he could actually win the popular vote in Italy. In fact, the very characteristic that helped him save the country from ruin – dedication to good economic sense, unswayed by the prospect of garnering votes or pandering to vested interests – is unlikely to win him the approval of Italian voters. They may well choose the charismatic populist Berlusconi over the careful technocrat Monti.

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About the Author

Katharina Obermeier

Katharina considers herself a German-Canadian hybrid. She grew up in Germany and completed her BA in International Relations at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Politics, especially in relation to concepts of nationality, have always fascinated her, and she is particularly interested in international political economy. During her studies, she was an avid participant at Model United Nations conferences, and helped welcome international exchange students to her university. She is currently completing an internship at a Brussels-based trade association and hopes to work in European affairs in the future. In her political writing, Katharina marries social democratic principles with a keen interest in the European Union and its implications for European politics and identity. She writes to counteract simplistic ideas about politics and economics, continuously attempting to expose the nuances and complexities involved in these subjects.



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