Berlusconi says won't stand if Monti does

Until then, 'I'm a premier candidate'

Berlusconi says won't stand if Monti does

Rome, December 12 - Silvio Berlusconi on Wedensday said that he would not run for a fourth term as Italian premier if outgoing Premier Mario Monti agreed to head a new conservative coalition at February elections, but added he did not think Monti would do so. Such a "coalition of moderates," said Berlusconi, would include the regionalist Northern League party, which has denounced Monti since replacing Berlusconi last year amid a peak in the euro crisis. In the meantime, Berlusconi said that "I am a premier candidate", speaking at a presentation of a book by journalist and TV presenter Bruno Vespa in Rome. In his speech, the media mogul repeated that Italy's bond spread was a "con" and suggested it did not matter. On Tuesday he said the same thing, sparking rebuttals from financial experts and Premier Mario Monti. Berlusconi's remarks were the latest to grab the attention of political pundits since the former premier said he was throwing his hat into the political race last week. Leading newspapers in Europe and the US came out squarely against him, warning his return to politics could be "disastrous". In editorials published Wednesday, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times were scathing in their analysis of the damage Berlusconi created in his years in government, and the threat he holds for the future. "The re-election of Silvio Berlusconi could be disastrous, given the precarious Italian economy and the lack of trust he inspires abroad," said the Journal. But, it added, Italians who are tired of the austerity measures imposed by the present technocratic government of Premier Mario Monti might "bet on Berlusconi" once again, just to get a break from hard times. That would be a mistake, warned the New York Times in an editorial titled "The Shameless Return of Mr Berlusconi". "Although it may seem like a bad joke, given his failures on the reform front and the economy and his sex scandals, the return of Berlusconi could do serious harm," said the Times. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble also slammed Berlusconi, saying "everyone knows...the Monti government has done a better job than the last one". Premier Mario Monti was less direct in his criticism Wednesday, saying that the administration of his predecessor Berlusconi had passed some economic reforms "but left very much to do". Monti, who took office last year when Italy's financial crisis forced Berlusconi to resign as premier, added that the winner of upcoming national elections would have to try to follow up on the reforms passed by his emergency technocrat government. Berlusconi has been highly critical of the record of Monti's government since his People of Freedom party withdrew its support from it last week. Monti has passed painful austerity measures and structural economic reforms, including controversial changes to labour-market regulations, that reassured investors Italy was putting its financial house in order. But these measures also deepened the recession the country slipped into last year.

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