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German views on Italian elections contested

Monti backtracks on Merkel, Schulz says don't vote Berlusconi

21 February, 18:07
German views on Italian elections contested (ANSA) - Rome, February 21 - Alleged or overt German views on the Italian general election were contested Thursday.

In the first episode, outgoing Premier Mario Monti changed tack by saying German Chancellor Angela Merkel was not interfering in Italy's election campaign - a day after he appeared to drag her into the run-up for Sunday and Monday's vote.

Monti said Wednesday that he did not think Merkel would be pleased if Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left coalition wins the vote.

This prompted the German government to say it would not intervene in the election campaign.

Centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, meanwhile, said Monti had won Merkel's blessing to form a post-election pact with Bersani.

"Neither I nor Berlusconi need Merkel's blessing," said Monti, who took the helm of an emergency government of unelected technocrats in November 2011 and is standing on a reform platform backed by centrist parties.

"I am very aware that Chancellor Merkel would not intervene in the Italian elections. It's not true and it's not even close to being true".

The second episode involved an old Berlusconi sparring partner, European Parliament Speaker Martin Schulz. The German Social Democrat warned the Italian people against voting for Berlusconi's centre-right alliance in the general election.

He told German tabloid Bild that Berlusconi had "already sent Italy to the bottom of the abyss once with the actions of an irresponsible government".

Berlusconi was forced to resign as prime minister in November 2011 when Italy's debt crisis threatened to spiral out of control.

Schulz and Berlusconi have had several run-ins in the past.

In December Schulz said that Berlusconi was bad for Italy and for Europe.

Berlusconi compared Schulz, who is German, to a Nazi concentration-camp guard - 'kapo' - or Jewish inmate co-opted for guard duty - during an angry exchange at the European Parliament in June 2003.

Schulz added in the interview that "a lot is at stake" in the upcoming vote, including the risk of losing confidence that has built up in Italy on the international stage and on the money markets since Monti took power.

"I have great faith that Italian voters will make the best choice for their country," Schulz said.

At the end of Thursday, however, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Germany will not try to interfere with the Italian election campaign.

However, Schaeuble did point out that under Monti "Italy made progress".

Speaking about the economic crisis plaguing Europe, Schaeuble stressed that "we are not yet out of the woods" and that countries must work collectively "to ensure the stability of the euro".

That might be seen as a shot at the cooperative abilities of Berlusconi, who has gone on the offensive against Germany with his claims it is treading on other countries' rights and interfering in the Italian vote.