European pressure ruffles feathers in crisis-hit Italy

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SaiGon GP English - 37 month(s) ago 1 readings

ROME, Nov 15, 2011 (AFP) - With Italy under the gun from the rest of Europe to form a new government and pass economic reforms and budget cuts demanded by Brussels, anti-interventionist rumbling in the country is growing.

The imposition of European Union and International Monetary Fund auditing of Italy's books this month has added injury to national pride, along with reports that European leaders are planning to fly in to help form a new government.

AFP - Prime Minister Mario Monti answers to journalists during a press conference after a meeting during the consultations to form a new government on November 14, 2011 at Palazzo Gustiniani in Rome.

Italy "does not deserve to find itself in a condition of inferiority and dependency," former president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi -- a widely respected figure in Italy -- said in an open letter published in business daily Il Sole 24 Ore.

"Italy cannot be a country of rapid decline, pushed to the margins of history," said Ciampi, also a former governor of the Bank of Italy, praising the country's "extraordinary vitality" despite the pressure of global markets.

In a video message explaining his decision to resign as prime minister on Saturday, a defiant Silvio Berlusconi echoed the same theme, saying: "No-one can take away our sovereignty and our autonomy to make decisions."

He added however that he understood the need "to put in place as rapidly as possible the reforms on which we agreed with Europe" and admitted Italy had only implemented half of the measures it had promised to Brussels.

Following the nomination of former European Union commissioner Mario Monti to take over power in Italy with a government of technocrats, as well as the EU-IMF monitoring system, the sentiment is not just part of political rhetoric.

"Full sovereignty will only be returned to the government when we regain credibility. Reputation is a virtue that can be easily lost," said Marcello Missori, an economics professor at Tor Vergata university in Rome.

Monti, who worked in Brussels for 10 years, said on Sunday: "Italy must again be and must increasingly be an element of strength, not weakness in a European Union that we helped found and in which we should be protagonists."

The populist Northern League party -- part of Berlusconi's toppled coalition -- has been quick to seize on the surprising shift in mood in a country where opinion polls regularly give the European Union top approval ratings.

In a stormy parliament session on Saturday, Northern League lawmaker Massimo Polledri addressed the chamber in French in a mocking protest against what he called "the Franco-German directorate" poised to take over Italy.

"Madame la presidente ..." Polledri began before deputy speaker of parliament Rosy Bindi upbraided him saying: "You have to speak Italian in this parliament." Although she added: "Maybe you should learn some German too."

"We salute the Franco-German directorate before it officially takes control of the country," Polledri said, adding: "Maybe they'll let us speak Italian for a bit longer but the decisions are going to be taken elsewhere."

Polledri was one of many people reacting after a blog of French daily Le Monde reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were planning to fly over to help forge a new cabinet.

That just added to the growing paranoia after Sarkozy and Merkel exchanged bemused glances when asked about their confidence in Berlusconi.

"Sarkozy, please stay at home," read a headline in Corriere della Sera, which accused the Sarkozy of a "superiority complex." The Berlusconi-owned Il Giornale denounced the "humiliation of being ordered around by Sarko."

The editors of three Berlusconi newspapers, Il Foglio, Il Giornale and Libero, at a conference on Saturday asked the charismatic tycoon not to support a new government saying it would be "what suits Merkozy."

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