14 Nov 2011

In praise of Italy’s ‘boring’ Mario Monti

“Compared to Berlusconi, Monti is incredibly boring” – one of Mario Monti’s former students tells Channel 4 News why she believes he is the right person to lead Italy.

Paola Subacchi was taught economics by Mario Monti, Italy’s prime minister-designate, in the 1980s and cannot speak highly enough of him.

Even her use of the word “boring” to describe him is not meant as an insult; simply a recognition that while the billionaire businessman Silvio Berlusconi’s premiership was characterised by sex scandals, Mr Monti is an economist and “technocrat” who has been married to the same woman for four decades.

Ms Subacchi is now a senior economist at the Chatham House think tank in London and an advocate of the “technical” government that Mr Monti is hoping to put together in Rome this week to replace Mr Berlusconi’s coalition.

One of Mario Monti's former students tells Channel 4 News why she believes he is the right person to lead Italy (Reuters)

Mr Monti certainly makes a dramatic contrast to his predecessor.

Mr Berlusconi is facing three trials – one for allegedly having sex with an under-age prostiute, which he denies. But the trials have not affected his popularity in Italy.

His roguishness helped make him Italy’s longest-seving post-war prime minister. But what put the nail in Mr Berlusconi’s political coffin was that, while he managed to build up a business empire and net an estimated £5bn fortune in the process, he was considerably less successful in making the Italian economy stronger.

Years of poor growth left the country ill-equipped to deal with the eurozone debt crisis that is now threatening its viability, and Ms Subacchi is hopeful Mr Monti, an academic at the prestigious Bocconi University in Milan and a former European competition commissioner, will have more success.

Channel 4 News compares and contrasts Silvio Berlusconi and Mario Monti

Mr Berlusconi was infamous for hosting so-called ‘bunga bunga’ parties, surrounded by younger women. It would be reasonable to assume Mr Monti never made it on to the guestlist.

“He has a completely different personal style: sober Monti and flamboyant Berlusconi,” Ms Subacchi told Channel 4 News.

“Compared to Berlusoni, he is incredibly boring. There’s no ‘bunga bunga’, he doesn’t have a lot of different women. They are opposites. We’ve had enough of the ‘bunga bunga’, flamboyant style. He is a very boring, but that is what we want. Mario Monti doesn’t have anything interesting for the tabloids to splash on their front pages.”

Ms Subacchi contrasted Mr Berlusconi’s opulent lifestyle and riches with Mr Monti, who flew to Rome last week in economy class, carried his own luggage and attended mass before meeting the Italian President.

“Berlusconi used to go to mass for the long-term support of the Catholic Church, which is an important centre of power. His private behaviour is the opposite of what the church teaches. Mario Monti goes there because that is what he believes.”

While Mr Berlusconi is so wealthy he owns palaces, where he held official meetings, Mr Monti “won’t be able to maintain palaces in Rome with his own means”.

But Ms Subacchi said Mr Monti would have to learn to become a formidable communicator, like Mr Berlusconi.

“He had a great asset: he was able to communicate with the people, he had a populist streak. Monti is a technocrat who will have to reach out to the rest of the country, not trapped in an ivory tower. He needs the country behind him and that will be very difficult.The average Italian doesn’t know him. He will have to get their support.”

Mr Monti had been a “very good teacher” at Bocconi University, and had a lot to give his country, she added.

“He is somebody who is very sober as a person, professional, rather than flamboyant. I think he’s the right person. He doesn’t have an easy task and must push through unpopular measures.

“I think he will have to move very fast. If he can get a team together and sworn in by the end of the week, that will be a very good move. Italy has a large pool of talent who haven’t been involved in politics. He has to calm the markets and I think he can do that. Berlusconi was self-centred. His own interests counted more than the interests of the country. With Monti, I’m pretty sure he is doing it for the sake of everybody.”

One of Mario Monti's former students tells Channel 4 News why she believes he is the right person to lead Italy (Reuters)

Mr Berlusconi, pictured here, is on the centre-right of politics. Ms Subacchi said Mr Monti was a “centrist” and believer in a free-market economy “with rules”.

Much is known about Mr Berlusconi, in Italy and the rest of the world. He’s the nightclub crooner who thrived as a businessman, creating Italy’s biggest media empire, taking over AC Milan, and being accused, but never convicted, of tax fraud and embezzlement – the party lover due in court accused of having sex with under-age prostitute, Karima “Ruby” El Mahroug.

But as Ms Subacchi said, Mr Monti is not a household name. Outside Italy, he is known for his two stints as a European commissioner, responsible for the single market and competition policy. It was in this guise that he gained the nickname “Super Mario” for taking on Microsoft’s monopoly.

It was Mr Berlusconi who, as prime minister, ended Mr Monti’s tenure in Brussels in 2004. Ironically, it is his departure that is now Mr Monti’s great opportunity.