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Monti hailed at EPP summit, Merkel 'asks' him to run

Italian premier does not rule out standing in elections

13 December, 18:15
Monti hailed at EPP summit, Merkel 'asks' him to run (ANSA) - Rome, December 13 - Italian Premier Mario Monti received a huge wave of support when he made a surprise appearance at a European People's Party summit on Thursday, at which German Chancellor Angela Merkel is said to have asked him to run for office in Italy's upcoming general elections.

The solidarity and affection from the centre-right group came after the former European commissioner said at the weekend he would resign from the helm of his emergency government in Rome.

The announcement was a consequence of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party withdrawing its support for the administration that replaced the media magnate's third government last year, when Italy's debt crisis looked in danger of spiralling out of control.

Concern has been expressed in European circles about the direction Rome will take after Monti's emergency administration of unelected technocrats steps down from power. These were heightened in recent days by Silvio Berlusconi blasting Monti's austerity policies as "too German-centric" after the media magnate announced he would run for a fourth term as premier.

Several sources at the summit told ANSA that Merkel has invited Monti to run at elections likely to take place in mid-to-late February. Elmar Brok, an influential German MEP for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, said that Monti had been invited to try to keep his job.

"We said it clearly to Monti that we would like to see him stand and that we have had a good rapport with him," Brok said. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Thursday that "it is clear that the EPP supports (Italian Premier) Mario Monti and not Silvio Berlusconi". Earlier this week Joseph Daul, the chairman of the EPP caucus in the European Parliament, publicly criticised the Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party for causing Monti's government to collapse.

This was seen as significant as the PdL belongs to the EPP.

"The European People's Party appreciates the results achieved by Premier Monti," Rutte added on Thursay after an EPP summit in Brussels attended by both Monti and Berlusconi.

Monti refused to comment on speculation he could run in upcoming general elections, but did not rule out standing either. "No comment. This would not be the time or the place," he said in Brussels when asked about speculation he could be the premier candidate for a group of centrist parties.

Monti is not a member of a political party that belongs to the EPP so his presence fuelled speculation he may run for premier.

But he said he had only attended to give an outline of Italy's political situation. "I came here to explain the Italian political situation," Monti said. "I recalled what the situation was when I started (as premier), the things that have been done and the conditions that determined my decision". Berlusconi announced a partial change of position on Wednesday, saying he would not stand if Monti agreed to head a new conservative coalition at February elections.

He invited Monti to lead a broad coalition, including the PdL, the centrist UDC and the populist, regionalist Northern League. Political pundits consider it unlikely that Monti would agree to Berlusconi's proposal, given the fact that the PdL stopped backing his government and the League has been one of its staunchest critics.

Democratic Party (PD) leader Pier Luigi Bersani, meanwhile, reiterated on Thursday that he does not think Monti should run, but stressed he would cooperate with the former European commissioner if he does. "Mario Monti should stay out of the election campaign," Bersani, who is the centre left's premier candidate and is favourite to win the elections with the PD ahead in the polls, told German daily Die Welt. "If, however, he does decide to stand, we'll respect this decision and we'll show our willingness to cooperate".