Rome

Merkel sidesteps question on Berlusconi return

Ex-premier criticised Fiscal Compact at weekend

Merkel sidesteps question on Berlusconi return

(ANSA) - Rome, September 17 - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday sidestepped a question on the possible return of former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi to front-line politics. Berlusconi, who was forced to step down in November when Italy looked in danger of being overwhelmed by the eurozone crisis, ended a long silence at the weekend with some controversial comments, including criticism of the EU's Fiscal Compact. The 75-year-old media magnate has said he has not yet decided whether he will run for a fourth term as Italian premier at elections next year. He had said he would not stand again after he resigned as premier in November to make way for Mario Monti's emergency technocrat administration but leading members of his People of Freedom (PdL) party have said he will be their candidate next spring. "I'm a democratic politician," Merkel told a news conference when asked if she was worried about the prospect of Berlusconi's coming back. "And I concentrate on Germany and on concrete facts". At the weekend, Berlusconi described the Fiscal Compact for tighter budget discipline and union that 25 of the EU's 27 member States signed earlier this year as "a package of regulations that impede growth". The comments may have raised some eyebrows as the compact is seen as key part of the EU's measures to solve the eurozone crisis. By accepting the pact, Italy and the 24 other signatories agreed to insert a balanced-budget rule into their own national constitutions, committing themselves to "semi-automatic" sanctions to be triggered if the measures are violated. Furthermore, counties with a public debt of over 60% of gross domestic product must bring it under that threshold within 20 years. Berlusconi also said that the EU's so-called anti-spread shield, which will make it possible for the European Central Bank to buy the bonds of countries facing soaring borrowing costs in order to ease the crisis, is unlikely to work. He added that the PdL will abolish IMU, a property tax Monti's government introduced last year as part of an austerity package to restore health to the country's public finances. Berlusconi's 2008-2011 government abolished a similar tax. Michele Ventura of the centre-left Democratic Party, which will run against the PdL next year, said the IMU pledge marked a return of "false promises and real nightmares". The ex-premier also expressed admiration for Florence's 37-year-old Matteo Renzi, who has been calling for Italy's political class to be rejuvenated and is set to run in the centre-left's leadership primaries. Renzi replied by saying Berlusconi was the first politician he would send to the scrapheap if the centre-left won next year's elections under him.

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