February 26, 2021

Berlusconi Vows Not to Resign

“The country is economically and financially solid. In difficult moments, it knows how to stay together and confront difficulties,” Mr. Berlusconi said in his first public remarks in a tense month. “Today more than ever, we need to act all together.”

But neither the center-left opposition nor financial markets shared Mr. Berlusconi’s optimism or his confidence in his government’s ability to carry out long-promised reforms. On Wednesday rates on Italy’s benchmark 10-year bond remained above 6 percent, easing only slightly from Tuesday’s record highs.

Addressing Parliament for the first time since it passed a $70 billion austerity package in mid-July, Mr. Berlusconi called on Wednesday for measures that would balance Italy’s budget “by the end of the year,” not 2014 as originally planned.

While delivering the same speech to the Lower House and the Senate after the markets had closed, he offered no concrete proposals beyond calls for unity and saying he would meet with the opposition, as well as business and labor union leaders, to discuss a plan for growth. Mr. Berlusconi said that his government would serve its mandate until 2013, “when we will serenely face the judgment of the electorate.”

He was expected to address the Senate later on Wednesday evening.

Given the ferocity of the markets’ turn against Italy, analysts said the address fell short of what was needed.

“It was a speech without ideas,” said Stefano Folli, the chief political columnist of the financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore, which is owned by the industrialists’ association, Confindustria. “It was very optimistic. I had hoped for a tone more adequate to the difficulties of the moment.”

“If he says the big theme is economic growth, let’s see if proposals emerge. Those have to translate immediately into laws and government initiatives,” Mr. Folli said. “If they stay vague, then the circle closes in a terrible way,” he added, referring to the end of the Berlusconi era.

A born salesman whose peppy speeches once entranced Italians, Mr. Berlusconi in recent months has often seemed more consumed with his own personal legal problems and the fate of his businesses — which include Italy’s largest private broadcaster — than with the fate of his country.

On Wednesday, Mr. Berlusconi was met with boos in the Lower House when he said, “you’re listening to a businessman who has three businesses listed on the stock market and who is in the financial trenches, aware every day of what’s going on in the markets.”

In the Lower House he was flanked by his finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, who has been weakened by a corruption investigation into a former aide.

Following the speech, Pier Luigi Bersani of the opposition center-left Democratic Party renewed his calls on Mr. Berlusconi to step down and call early elections, as his Spanish counterpart, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, did last week.

“Italy is in very big trouble,” Mr. Bersani said. “We have been told we’re better than the others. We haven’t looked this problem in the face,” he added, referring to Mr. Berlusconi’s remarks that Italy’s budget deficit, at 4.6 percent of the gross domestic product in 2010, is below the European average, although its debt, at nearly 120 percent, is Europe’s highest after Greece. However, Italy’s growth rate is hovering around a paltry 1.0 percent.

“The question of how can we pay our debt if we don’t even grow, is a legitimate question that doesn’t come from speculation,” Mr. Bersani said.

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/world/europe/04italy.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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