The European People's Party welcome to Mario Monti yesterday was remarkable, if something of a shock to Silvio Berlusconi who had gone to Brussels thinking himself the recognised leader of the Italian Centre and Right. Prime Minister Monti expounded Italy's current economic position and the means his government had used to recover it from the near disaster a year ago. The confirmation that his decision to resign once his budget is passed next week was due to the withdrawal of support for his administration by a part of the centre right under Berlusconi only reinforced the alienation of the EPP leaders from any acceptance of a Berlusconi candidature as leader of the centre right in Italy at the general elections there in February next year.
It is novel and most interesting to see a cross-European political party playing such a role in a member-state general election. Berlusconi's leadership of the centre and right in Italy is at an end, as he well recognises; his calls for Monti to formally take on this leadership are an attempt to retain some influence and a bit of face where once he led the majority in the coalition. In Rome on Sunday there will be a convention of politicians of the centre right to form a differently composed coalition which, they hope, will attract Monti's leadership.
Meanwhile the progressive and hard left minority party coalition that has gained control of what was once Romano Prodi's Democratic party are on the anti-Monti offensive, particularly after the socialist President of France joined in the chorus of support for Monti from the European People's Party. Massimo d'Alema, once Leader of the Italian Communist Party but now sent for political scrap by Matteo Renzi's onslaught on the dinosoaurs dominating the partito Democratico told the Corriere della Sera in an interview that Monti's position would be 'morally questionable' if he allowed his name to go forward at the general election. He continued to offer barely veiled threats that candidature for the Presidency of the Council (the office of prime minister) would destroy Monti's usefulness to the country and, in particular any eventual candidature for the Presidency of Italy.
It seems that if Monti dares to peel off the centrists (identified by Renzi's valiant stand) from the 'progressives' in control of the PD then there will be no support from the Left and its placemen in the new Parliament in the election of the new President of Italy. So he'd better watch himself.
Tomorrow is the global meeting of various 'progressive forces' from Europe and the world in the Acquarium in Rome. Sunday it's the refuseniks of the Right who've dumped Berlusca cheering along in a Roman theatre.