Italian premier Mario Monti hasn’t been in the job long, but is already the new darling of the European elite. So much so that some political pundits have dropped ‘Merkozy’ – the Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy duo – for the ‘Merkonti’ trio.
Certainly, his economists’ training and measured, articulate manner, contrasts favourably with his much lampooned predecessor Silvio Berlusconi. And he’s made headlines with his austere budgetary policies and deregulating zeal in high debt and supposedly over-protected Italy. After the disasters of Berlusconi’s rule, Monti had maintained a pretty shiny image in Italy too.
That was until his gaffe last week, making light of the misery of millions on the end of Italy’s economic crisis, particularly the youth, 29% of whom are out of work, when they are not eking out a precarious living. Monti said it was simply ‘monotonous’ to have a ‘job for life’. The response from the left was instant.
The Professor, as the Rector of Milan’s prestigious Bocconi University is known, should come out of his ‘ivory tower’, and by the way, was it ‘monotonous’ to have that (second job) as ‘life Senator’? Mockery aside, unions are furious with his plans to give more ‘freedoms’ to bosses to hire and fire. This is supposed to lead to more jobs, but as the unions point out, Italy’s problem is not the supply of labour, but demand.
Household spending has been depressed for a decade as wages are low and rises have been gobbled up in Europe’s inflation capital. Previous labour reforms have created a 2.4 million strong army of workers on short term contracts and this has made an already conservative bunch of consumers even more cautious, or otherwise unable to spend because they can’t get credit from equally conservative banks. Meanwhile exports have suffered from a Single Currency that overvalues them and Germany’s beggar-thy -neighbour wage competition. Public spending cuts have added to the woes.
Monti’s already a hate figure for lorry drivers, farmers, taxi drivers, pharmacists and notaries who have been protesting in recent weeks against his pro-market cuts agenda. Still, if things don’t work out as pm, there’s always that boring old job for life…