Silvio Berlusconi Has Resigned

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And so an era ends.

BBC reports:  Silvio Berlusconi has tendered his resignation as Italian prime minister.

President Giorgio Napolitano is likely to accept his offer and appoint Mario Monti, a technocrat, as his successor.

Mr Berlusconi lost his majority amid an acute debt crisis that threatens the eurozone. He promised to go once MPs had approved new austerity mesasures.

He is Italy's longest-serving post-WWII PM - having dominated political life for 17 years. His premiership has recently been marred by many scandals.

Crowds gathered outside the parliament, shouting "Resign" and "Bye bye Silvio". Later, groups outside the president's and prime minister's offices shouted abuse, calling Mr Berlusconi a "buffoon".

The outgoing prime minister said he felt "embittered" after hearing the insults.

After losing his parliamentary majority on Tuesday, Berlusconi promised to resign after austerity measures, demanded by the EU and designed to restore markets' confidence in the country's economy, were passed by both houses of parliament.

Members of the lower house voted 380-26 with two abstentions on Saturday, a day after the Senate approved the measures that have now been signed into law.

After accepting Mr Berlusconi's resignation, Mr Napolitano is expected to formally ask Mr Monti or another candidate to form a government of technocrats.

...

Once Berlusconi steps down, former European Commissioner Mario Monti is expected to be given the task of trying to form an administration to manage an escalating financial crisis.

Italy, the euro zone's third largest economy, came close to disaster this week when yields on 10-year bonds soared over 7.6 percent, the kind of level which forced Ireland, Portugal and Greece to seek an international bailout.

Berlusconi, who failed to secure a majority in a vote on Tuesday, promised to resign once parliament passed the package of economic reforms demanded by European partners to restore confidence in Italy's battered public finances.

"We are waiting for the end, we are waiting for the end of the Berlusconi era, we hope it is going to be the end," said Rome resident Angela Lanza.

Monti, named by Napolitano as a Senator for Life on Wednesday, is expected to appoint a relatively small cabinet of technocrat specialists to steer Italy through the crisis.

With the next election not due until 2013, a technocrat government could have about 18 months to pass painful economic reforms but will need to secure the backing of a majority in parliament and could fall before then.

BBC reminds that it will not be smooth sailing for Monti:

Mr Monti, a well respected economist, is exactly the sort of man that the money markets would like to see take charge at this time of crisis, our correspondent says, but there is significant opposition to him within the country.

The austerity package foresees 59.8bn euros in savings from a mixture of spending cuts and tax rises, with the aim of balancing the budget by 2014. Measures include:

  • An increase in VAT, from 20% to 21%
  • A freeze on public-sector salaries until 2014
  • The retirement age for women in the private sector will gradually rise, from 60 in 2014 until it reaches 65 in 2026, the same age as for men
  • Measures to fight tax evasion will be strengthened, including a limit of 2,500 euros on cash transactions
  • There will be a special tax on the energy sector

On Wednesday, the interest rate on 10-year Italian government bonds touched 7%, the rate at which Greece, Ireland and Portugal were forced to seek bailouts from the EU.

Indeed, Italy not known for any easy political consensus, will likely make a transition government difficult:

Even as preparations for a transition begin, signs of opposition have appeared, with Berlusconi's PDL party split between factions ready to accept a Monti government and others deeply opposed.

Berlusconi had a working lunch with Monti before the vote, suggesting the outgoing government will not try to block a quick handover, but the attitude of the center-right as a whole remains unclear.

The PDL's main coalition ally, the regional pro-devolution Northern League, has declared it will go into opposition, underlining the risk that the new government will lack the broad parliamentary support it will need to pass deep reforms.

"The convulsions in the center-right at the prospect of a government led by Mario Monti signal a danger: that a divided coalition may be tempted to unload its divisions on the country," the daily Corriere della Sera said.

The center-left Democratic party and smaller centrist parties have pledged support to Monti. Italy's main business and banking associations and some of the moderate trade unions have also called for a government of national unity.

Nonetheless, as Reuters with shows with the immediate reaction from Rome, people seem happy... if even for a few hours.

Crowds gathered at government buildings on Saturday celebrating the imminent departure of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after parliament cleared the way for his resignation by approving a budget aimed at rescuing Italy from financial crisis.

Hundreds of demonstrators waving banners mocking Berlusconi flocked to the president's residence at the Quirinale Palace and shouted "clown, clown, clown" as the motorcade carrying the billionaire media entrepreneur who has been Italy's longest serving prime minister entered.

Berlusconi arrived at the palace, which was under heavy security, to formally hand his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano and bring an end to one of the most scandal-plagued periods in recent Italian history.

An orchestra near the palace played the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. "We are here to rejoice," one of the musicians said.

Demonstrators chanting "resign, resign, resign" also gathered outside the prime minister's office and parliament, heckling ministers as they walked between the two buildings.

Follow the developments in real time at the Corriere site: