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Monti not planning to run for election

The man credited with implementing key economic reforms putting Italy on the path to financial stability says he has no plans to run for election. This has sparked fears about Italy’s future economic path.

Prime Minister Mario Monti's announcement over the weekend that he would step down after parliament passes the 2013 budget sent a chill through the markets on Monday, with Italy's borrowing costs rising and the country's benchmark stock index plunging by 3 percent.

Monti announced his resignation after the party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi withdrew its support for his technocrat government. The ex-premeier's decision to launch a political comeback added to fears that Italy could veer off the austerity path charted under Monti's leadership.

Speaking to reporters in Oslo, where he attended the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on Monday, Monti attempted to reassure the markets and the rest of the eurozone.

"I understand market reactions; they need not be dramatised,” Monti told a news conference. “I am very confident that the Italian elections, when they come, will give room to whatever coalition ... the government will be, in my view, a highly responsible one."

Asked whether he would be a candidate in the next election, Monti did not completely rule out the possibility.

"I'm not considering this particular issue at this stage," he said. "All my efforts are being devoted to the completion of the remaining time of the current government."

Earlier, there was praise from European partners for Monti's efforts to restore credibility to Italy's financial system.

Tributes for Monti's work

"Monti was a great prime minister of Italy and I hope that the policies he put in place will continue after the elections," said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who was also in Oslo, where he was part of an EU delegation to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

Van Rompuy's statement echoed comments made by a number of other European figures on Sunday.

At the same time, though, there were warnings for whoever forms the country's next government.

"Italy must not stop two-thirds along the reform path," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters prior to a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels on Monday. "This would bring new turmoil not only for Italy but also for Europe."

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble shared Monti's optimism that whoever does take power in Rome early next year will exercise fiscal responsibility.

"We expect that Italy will continue to fully comply with its agreed European obligations and continue on the reform path it has started," Schäuble's spokeswoman told reporters in Berlin.

Schäuble's French counterpart, Pierre Moscovici, played down the danger of Silvio Berlusconi undoing Monti's achievements.

"The direction that Italy has been going in for the last year and a half is a solid direction: There is no reason to worry," Moscovici told the Reuters news agency. "Berlusconi is returning to politics, but I'm convinced that he will not return to power."

Moscovici's view is supported by recent opinion polls, which suggest that if an election were held today, Pier Luigi Bersani's center-left Democratic Party would likely emerge as the winner. Analysts say a Bersani-led government could be expected to follow a similar course to that of Monti's administration.

The snap elections are expected to be held by February. Monti's term in office had been due to run at least until March.

pfd/sej (Reuters, dpa, AFP)