Monti calls Berlusconi to calm 'spread storm'
Premier says spread would be 1,200 points under predecessor07 August, 18:11
A government statement said Monti had spoken to Berlusconi to say he was "sorry" that his comments on spread trends had been taken as "political considerations", adding that this was not his intention. Monti caused the furore with comments he gave the Wall Street Journal last month that were published on the newspaper's website on Tuesday.
"I think that if the previous government were still in power, Italy's spreads would now be at 1,200 or something," Monti said.
The spread was close to 438 points at 15:33 local time Tuesday.
The PdL, which Monti's government relies on to to get its measures approved as it is the biggest party in parliament, hit back with some strongly worded statements and protests.
PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano described the comments as "unacceptable" and demanded the premier explain them.
The PdL's Senate whip, Maurizio Gasparri, went even further and suggested the party could withdraw its support from the government. "Sooner or later we could get fed up," Gasparri said. Party Senators also deserted their seats in protest to make it impossible for the Upper House to reach quorum and do much of its last-minute business before the summer recess.
In the House, PdL MPs caused the government to lose a procedural vote in the House on its 26-billion-euro package of spending-review cuts.
The bill won definitive approval later on Tuesday.
Former European commissioner Monti stepped in to head an emergency government of non-political technocrats after growing market pressure forced Berlusconi to quit as premier in November.
Since then Monti has taken unpopular measures to restore health to Italy's public finances and introduced controversial structural economic reforms aimed at boosting growth.
Italy's bonds, however, have remained under pressure amid fears the country is in danger of "contagion" from other countries at the centre of the eurozone debt crisis. "We understand that he (Monti) might not like the fact the the spread is going up and down during his government and this may have upset him, but that does not justify this provocation that is as useless as it is stupid. We return it to sender," said Fabrizio Cicchitto, the PdL's House whip. The premier may well be surprised at the reactions his comments caused as he was trying to make a point about investor perceptions.
He seemed to be suggesting that Germany would move to protect France from getting sucked into the centre of the eurozone debt crisis, but would not have done the same for Italy under Berlusconi.
Indeed, before making the comment on what the spread would be under Berlusconi, he said: "Spreads are still high because our debt is objectively very high, and markets have started realizing in a dramatic way that eurozone governance is weak. France has done much less reform than we have and yet its spreads are lower. I think the reason is that people believe Germany will never let France go".