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Loser Monti looks to Brussels for sympathy


Thursday 28 February 2013
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Four days after Mario Monti's party gained little over a tenth of the vote to come fourth in Italy's general elections, the outgoing Italian prime minister came to Brussels and asked if he could at least be appreciated here.

What Italy's pesky electorate hadn't quite got their head around was that all the economic and structural reforms he'd started to implement over the past year or so take time to bear fruit. Growth will come, even if you haven't felt it yet.

Monti was speaking at the European Commission's competition forum this morning. There can be few other defeated prime ministers who would do the same after such a week. But then Monti's a former commissioner, he's one of us, we understand him here. He used his speech to defend his unpopular policies which tackled the “bottlenecks and rigidities” in many sectors of Italian professional life.

In a dry speech that demonstrated rather effectively why Monti struggled to capture the public's imagination in the way that, say, Bersani, Berlusconi and Grillo managed, he proceeded to give a long list of all the good he'd done since taking office.

He'd undertaken reforms to open up the energy and transport sectors, abolished tariffs for regulated professions (“this one was not particularly easy”), increased the number of pharmacies and liberalised the sale of drugs, increased the number of notaries, brought in more competition in the services sector...

“And STILL they didn't get it!” he might as well have added.

But you know who did get it? The EU, the audience, his friends here in Brussels, whose policies Monti was pursuing and whose policies Monti defended today. They were still “right”, he insisted, despite their unpopularity. 

If he was looking for love, the former commissioner got it here in Brussels this morning. Italians might not appreciate him but Brussels still does. He got a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech. He's at home here.

And no wonder. He more or less sacrificed his own popularity for the sake of the EU!

 “I made it my point in my 15 months as prime minister of Italy – and I stuck to it –  even in my most difficult moments, of never once saying to the Italian parliament or to the public in Italy that certain restrictive measures had to be taken because the European Union demanded them,” he said.

Before adding rather pointedly:

“Although of course it was true that the European Union was asking for them.”

So what now? While Monti was being fawned over and getting sympathy in Brussels, the politicians that Italy's people actually want to govern them, were working out how to do so.

 

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