Rome

Monti govt in peril after Berlusconi party snubs votes

PdL deserts Senate confidence vote, abstains in House

Monti govt in peril after Berlusconi party snubs votes

(see related stories) Rome, December 6 - Premier Mario Monti's government appeared to be in danger of collapsing on Thursday when Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party withdrew its support for two confidence votes in parliament. The PdL deserted a vote in the Senate on a government economic-development bill and said later in the day that it would abstain in another vote in the House on measures to reduce the costs of Italy's local and national political system. The move did not automatically bring down Monti's emergency administration of unelected technocrats as the PdL, the biggest party in government, did not actively vote against it in the confidence motions. But it was seen as a sign that the PdL may be poised to pull the plug on the year-old administration to provoke early elections in which Berlusconi would stand for a fourth term as Italian premier. The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) said Monti must consult with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano as his government had effectively lost its majority. "If the government no longer has a majority, I think Monti should go to (see Napolitano at) the Quirinal Palace," said Anna Finocchiaro, the PD's Senate whip. PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani admitted that the government, which his party and the PdL have kept afloat in parliament, is in a perilous position. "We'll have to see if it is an abstention from a vote or a (definitive) political abstention," said Bersani, who will be the centre-left's premier candidate at upcoming elections after winning a primary last weekend. "I'll get an outline of the situation with the whips and this evening I'll know whether there is a majority or not". Berlusconi said he would retire from front-line politics after being forced to resign from the helm of government to make way for Monti's administration last year, when Italy's debt crisis threatened to spiral out of control. But the 76-year-old media magnate has changed his mind several times in recent months over whether to return, with his centre-right PdL party struggling in the opinion polls and ravaged by internal divisions. Berlusconi said he was "besieged by requests from the party to announce as soon as possible my return to politics to guide the PdL" after a meeting with PdL top brass on Wednesday. Bersani said the actions of Berlusconi's party risked destabilising the country, which was expected to go to the polls in March. "The PdL has transferred the confusion inside itself to cause system confusion which is endangering the country's reliability," he said. The spread between 10-year Italian bonds and the German benchmark, an important barometer of market confidence in Italy's ability to weather the eurozone crisis, shot up after the PdL announced it was deserting the Senate vote. The spread edged up by one point to 311 after the opening of business on Thursday but then soared to 327 following the PdL's move, before easing back down to 322. Berlusconi said part of the reason he was considering a comeback was that Italy had moved to the "verge of the abyss" in the year since he left office. "Today the situation is worse than it was a year ago when I left the government out of a sense of responsibility and love for my country," he said. "The economy is in dire straits. There are a million more people unemployed, the national debt is increasing, spending power is collapsing and the tax burden is at intolerable levels. "I cannot let the country fall into an endless recessive spiral". Pressure has eased on Italy's borrowing costs since Monti came to power, but his austerity policies have deepened the recession Italy slipped into last year. Nevertheless, the former European commissioner believes his administration of unelected technocrats has done a good job and defended its record on Thursday. "The contribution Italy has tried to give, and which I believe it has given, to taking forward the construction of Europe positively was to work hard so that Italy and other countries measured up to all the criteria, especially those requested to put Italy in a position of safety and to stop a new flashpoint lighting up in the eurozone," Monti said. "And I think that, to a good degree, we achieved this".

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