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Napolitano dismisses Berlusconi-plot talk as 'smoke'

Govt was 'clearly struggling' writes head of State

10 February, 20:16
Napolitano dismisses Berlusconi-plot talk as 'smoke' (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, February 10 - President Giorgio Napolitano on Monday dismissed speculation he plotted to bring down ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's government in 2011 as "just smoke".

A furore blew up as Mario Monti confirmed media reports he was sounded out by Napolitano in the summer of 2011 about the possibility of taking over the reins of power. The reports have been taken as evidence Napolitano wanted to see the end of the last of Berlusconi's three governments, which fell in November 2011 when Italy looked in danger of facing a Greek-style financial meltdown.

Monti replaced Berlusconi as premier at the helm of a emergency technocrat administration that passed painful austerity measures that steered Italy out of the financial crisis. It governed until April 2013. "The real facts, the only ones in the real history of the country in 2011, are well known and indisputable," Napolitano wrote in a letter to Corriere della Sera, which first published the reports he sounded out Monti in the summer of 2011 "These are summed up by the fact that the governing majority that won the 2008 elections was clearly struggling more and more".

Napolitano recalled many of the problems Berlusconi's government faced at the peak of the eurozone crisis 2011, when borrowing costs rose sharply and Italy looked on the brink of a financial disaster.

These included defections within the government alliance of the time and various reprimands from the European Union over Italy's budget. Napolitano said that in 2011 he, and many others, came to see Monti as a "resource to keep in mind and, if necessary, to bring to the government of the country". But he also stressed that he only gave the former European commissioner the mandate to form an emergency government after Berlusconi resigned.

Some members of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party have called for the head of State to be impeached, something that the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) is already calling for.

The M5S accuses Napolitano of failing in his role as impartial arbiter of Italian politics and the Constitution and says he favours the traditional parties.

Premier Enrico Letta blasted the conspiracy theories.

"I'm amazed that these insinuations come at the same times as the attempt by the M5S to delegitimize the president's role as guarantor," said Letta, who replaced Monti, heading a left-right coalition government, after last year's inconclusive general election. "It's necessary to react to these attacks with firmness".

Former European commissioner and Life Senator Monti also defended Napolitano's conduct in the crisis-hit year of 2011.

"It's absurd to consider it anomalous for the president to make sure there is an alternative, if a problem arises," Monti told State broadcaster Rai. Monti said he had also been contacted several years before by Napolitano's predecessor as president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, about whether he would be willing to step in to head a government if necessary. Berlusconi has said the end of his third government and his ejection from parliament in November after a definitive tax-fraud conviction are just two of a series of "coups" in Italy in recent years. Napolitano berated the 77-year-old billionaire for those comments. There had been rumours Berlusconi's party could support an impeachment bid last year after Napolitano refused to consider giving the ex-premier a pardon over the tax-fraud verdict unless the 77-year-old media magnate asked for it.

Berlusconi refused to do so, saying this would amount to an admission of guilt.

FI did not go as far as to request impeachment, but the party has been highly critical of Napolitano, even though centre-right lawmakers voted in favour of him being the first Italian president to be re-elected last year. Matteo Renzi, the new leader of Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the man who is favourite to be Italy's next premier, called the plot furore an "unacceptable controversy".