Thu, Apr 04, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Italian president hosting talks as deadlock drags on

AFP, ROME

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Tuesday said two working groups of experts he set up to try and find common ground for bickering political leaders who have failed to form a new government would take eight to 10 days to complete their task.

Elections in the eurozone’s third-largest economy more than a month ago resulted in a three-way split between Pier Luigi Bersani’s center-left, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right and a new protest party led by former comedian Beppe Grillo.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, who steered Italy out of the debt crisis, but came a distant fourth in the election because of criticism of his austerity measures, will remain in office with limited interim powers until a new Cabinet is formed.

GRAND COALITION

Bersani has failed to woo lawmakers from Grillo’s Five Star Movement and has ruled out a grand coalition with his archrival Berlusconi, a scandal-tainted billionaire who has been prime minister three times in two decades in politics.

Bersani on Tuesday said he could meet with Berlusconi, but reiterated his opposition to a cross-party “grand coalition” arrangement.

The leftist also signalled he could step aside if he became an “obstacle” in forming a government, amid criticism from within his own party.

Berlusconi has said there should either be an agreement with the left or Italy should hold new elections — a prospect that worries European capitals and financial markets concerned that instability could reignite the eurozone crisis.

A recent poll indicated that Berlusconi, who has been fiercely critical of Germany’s role in Europe and questioned whether Italy should stay in the euro, would win snap elections with 32.5 percent of the vote against 29.6 percent for Bersani.

PROPERTY TAX

Bersani’s coalition won the Feb. 24 to Feb. 25 elections by a whisker — just 125,000 votes ahead of Berlusconi, who has re-gained popularity with his call for an end to austerity and the abolition of an unpopular property tax imposed by Monti.

The two working groups set up by Napolitano have a total of 10 experts, including political and non-political figures, with one group devoted to political reforms and the other to economic ones.

The first will look into trimming bureaucratic costs and reducing the number of lawmakers in parliament — 945, including deputies in the lower house and senators in the upper house.

The second will look at emergency economic measures as the country endures its sixth consecutive quarter of recession and unemployment remains near record highs at 11.6 percent.

Some experts say Napolitano’s initiative could be aimed at forging a cross-party government deal similar to the one struck in the Netherlands in October last year two months after inconclusive polls.

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