Profiles: Potential Berlusconi successors

After coming under intense international pressure to deal with its economy's problems, Italy has passed a new austerity budget.

Long-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has stepped down, and analysts say the likely replacement is a new, unelected, technocrat government.

Similar cabinets enacted reforms and overcame economic crises in the 1990s.

Another scenario would see Mr Berlusconi's PDL party remain in office but under a new leader, or as part of a new coalition.

Here, BBC News looks at some of the names being mentioned as a potential new prime minister.

Mario Monti

Mario Monti (image from May 2008)

One of the names most frequently cited is that of the former EU competition commissioner.

In that post (1999-2004), he earned the nickname "Super Mario" for his tenacity in battling Germany's powerful regional banks and blocking the merger of General Electric and Honeywell.

His credentials in Brussels date back even longer, as he came to competition from a stint as EU commissioner for internal market and services (1995-99).

The fact that he was first appointed to the EU commission under a Berlusconi government, and confirmed in his second under a government of the left, may suggest he has cross-party appeal. However, Mr Berlusconi refused to back his continuation in Brussels in 2004.

Now aged 68, the former economics professor from Lombardy was recently commissioned by Brussels to write a report on the future of the EU single market.

"He has experience and, Europe-wide, is one of the most highly esteemed Italian personalities," Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the lower chamber of the Italian parliament, has said of him.

He may have the economic qualifications and eurozone connections, but the question is whether the Berlusconi coalition is willing to hand over the reins to a non-elected leader.

Full profile

Gianni Letta 

Gianni Letta (image from September 2011)

Widely regarded as Mr Berlusconi's right-hand man, he enjoys the advantage of the governing party's loyalty.

However, by the same token, he may suffer from association with the policy failures of the current government.

The former journalist and TV presenter from l'Aquila has been chief of staff in all three Berlusconi governments.

His association with Mr Berlusconi stretches back to the 1980s, when he joined the Fininvest group.

In 2006, he was defeated in his bid to be elected president of Italy, a post taken by the former communist Giorgio Napolitano, who remains head of state.

At 76, he is a year older than Mr Berlusconi, who said this summer he would like to see Gianni Letta as president but tipped a different man - Angelino Alfano - for future prime minister.

Angelino Alfano

Angelino Alfano in parliament, April 2011

Mr Berlusconi's chosen successor is just 41, making him the youngest justice minister in modern Italian history.

He is best known as the architect of a highly contentious law that protected Mr Berlusconi from criminal prosecution, according to a Daily Telegraph profile.

The "Alfano Law" granted immunity from prosecution to the four highest political offices in Italy - the president, the speakers of the houses of parliament and the prime minister - before it was overturned in 2009.

A loyal Berlusconi follower since the mid-1990s, the former lawyer from Sicily was propelled into the leadership of the Freedom Party this summer, after the party lost local elections in Milan and Naples.

If the next Italian government is to be merely a reshuffle of the existing coalition, he is clearly well placed to lead it.

However, his relative youth may be an argument for holding him back as leader until the next election, leaving the old guard to handle the current economic crisis.

Renato Schifani

Like his fellow Sicilian Mr Alfano, the speaker of the Senate is a lawyer by training and a loyal, long-standing member of Mr Berlusconi's political party.

 Renato Schifani in the Senate (April, 2008)

Before he was elected speaker in 2008, he was Mr Berlusconi's chief whip in the Senate.

In his current post, he would automatically become head of state should the president die in office.

At 61, he has the political gravitas which Mr Alfano as yet may lack, while being just young enough to qualify as new blood, unlike Mr Letta.

His political handicap is that he, like Mr Alfano and Mr Letta, is so closely associated with Mr Berlusconi.

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