Europe

Silvio Berlusconi launches attack on Mario Monti

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the AC Milan training grounds in Milanello, 8 December
Image caption Silvio Berlusconi is fighting his sixth general election campaign

Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has launched a pre-election attack on his successor, Mario Monti, saying the country is now worse off.

He accused Mr Monti of following policies which benefited Berlin, saying Germany had lowered its own borrowing costs at the expense of other states.

Mr Monti is due to resign after Mr Berlusconi's party withdrew its support for his government on Thursday.

Mr Berlusconi will run in the February election, but Mr Monti has not decided.

There has been speculation that Mr Monti could take part the election, by forming a new party or joining forces with a centrist grouping; or, that he could run for president when the job becomes vacant next year.

It is the sixth election campaign for Mr Berlusconi, leader of the conservative People of Freedom party, who is now 76.

The sudden political uncertainty in Italy, the third-biggest economy in the eurozone, has unsettled financial markets.

Spread 'trick'

But Mr Berlusconi dismissed news on Tuesday that the spread - the differential between Italian and benchmark German bonds, a closely watched measure of investor unease - had widened further.

"What do we care about the spread?" he told Canale 5 television, part of his own media empire.

"The spread is a trick and an invention with which they tried to bring down the majority that ruled the country," he said, referring to his last government, which collapsed just over a year ago when he resigned amid panic on the markets.

Image caption Mr Monti (left) was in Oslo on Monday for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony

"Monti followed policies that were too German-centric," he continued.

"All the economic statistics have worsened."

The office of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano announced at the weekend that Mr Monti had "made clear his intention to present his resignation".

Speaking to Italian state TV on Tuesday, Mr Monti, a well-respected economist who was called in to form a crisis cabinet after Mr Berlusconi's resignation, did not comment directly on his future.

However, he said he wanted to continue playing a role in influencing opinion in Italy.

"I think I did it when I was a professor, I'm trying to do it in this brief period when I'm prime minister," he said.

"I'm sure that whatever hat I'm wearing in future, I will continue to do it."

Year of austerity

Since taking office, Mr Monti has been implementing economic austerity measures and argues that his spending cuts and tax hikes have staved off disaster, and set the country on the right track, the BBC's Alan Johnston reports from Rome.

Mr Berlusconi will fight the election campaign on an anti-austerity platform, our correspondent says. He will tell people that he can ease their economic pain, that he will cut their taxes, and create jobs.

However, he is currently far behind in the polls, which puts a centre-left alliance led by Pier Luigi Bersani in the lead.

It broadly supports a continuation of Mr Monti's economic programme while saying it would ease some of the pressure on the poorest members of society.

An election must be called within 70 days of the dissolution of parliament. Italy had been due to go to the polls by April at the latest.