Monti Starts Forming New Italian Government

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Marco Werman: Italy's Prime Minister designate is busy forming a cabinet. Mario Monti was officially picked over the weekend to replace Silvio Berlusconi at the Italian helm. Monti doesn't have a lot of time. Financial markets are still looking for signs that Italy's new government can get a handle on the country's massive public debt. Monti seems well-qualified for the job. He's a 68-year-old economist who studied at Yale. He also served as Europe's Competition Commissioner, famously tangling with Microsoft over anti-trust issues. To find out more about Italy's man of the moment we turn to Gianni Riotta, he's editor-in-chief and of the business daily, II Sole 24 Ore, in Rome. Gianni, what part of Monti's background is most important do you think for Italy right now?

Gianni Riotta: You know, Mario Monti's resume is impressive and you just gave us a few items, but what really Monti needs now is something that is completely untested for, it is to have like a political neck, because the politicians, unfortunately, and the markets will not be impressed by his resume. They will want him to form a government in a matter of hours and then to implement the reforms that Berlusconi wasn't able to implement in almost 20 years. And that's not easy. I mean it's not for his golden resume that Monti will win, but if he reveals himself a great politician, and we hope so.

Werman: So we don't know whether he has the political knack yet or not, that'll take so me time.

Riotta: I hope, yes, and I think when you mention tangling with Bill Gates as commissioner, and I remember also he making quite a fight with Jack Welch of General Electric and there was another 800 lb. gorilla. So Mario Monti is a very gutsy man, but then you know, a political manager is also a power broker and that's where we have to support him. And the public opinion is to support him.

Werman: He's sometimes referred to as an academic kind of a sober technocrat. That's a stark contrast to the boisterous Berlusconi. How do Italians feel about that?

Riotta: You know, I think Italians, were fed up with the Berlusconi style, but what I want your listeners to remember is that it wasn't the bizarre lifestyle of Mr. Berlusconi that broke him down, it was the economy. And the relentless campaign against Berlusconi's lifestyle, he was sound on immoral ground, but he was totally ineffective on political ground. Mario Monti is exactly the opposite. He goes to mass. He has been married with his college sweetheart. He's like you know, a straight arrow, completely a straight arrow. But again, this is not about who's the best boy in class. This is who is going to tame the market.

Werman: So I guess it's hard to tell whether Monti will be able to do that or not, but you make a point there, Gianni, I'm wondering whether Monti will be able to change the culture of Italy after so many years of Berlusconi.

Riotta: But you see we have two main problems: one is the huge debt. We have like 1,900 euro billion of debt, but what's really bad about Italy is the country hasn't grown in almost 15 years. And the country is very vital and filled up with talent. And I'm positive that we can rescue it.

Werman: Now, Mario Monti studied in the United States. So did Lucas Papademos, who is in charge of the interim coalition in Greece right now. He taught in the US. I'm just wondering if you think a US academic background in economics is kind of [unknown 3:36] right now if you want credibility?

Riotta: You know, an Ivy League background, and I speak as a graduate of Columbia and as a professor now at Princeton University, that doesn't vouch that you are a great guy. There are like dictators in the third world that boast prestigious university degrees, but for sure we are coming to a global world. I mean I don't think that Mario Monti studied at Yale or been in all kinds of think tanks in United States will do the work. What he has to do is to fix the nuts and bolts of the Italian economy. He can do it, but that's going to be a massive job.

Werman: Gianni Riotta, editor in chief of the business daily, II Sole 24 Ore, in Rome. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

Riotta: Thank you, bye.