December 16, 2011

Italian Prime Minister Snipes at Merkel

New leader warns against divisive "short-term hunger for rigor"

Italy's prime minister, Mario Monti. (Photo: AP) Italy's prime minister, Mario Monti. (Photo: AP)

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti warned European policymakers against dividing the region in their pursuit of a solution to the debt crisis.

Speaking at a conference in Rome, Monti took aim at Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, saying that a solution to the problem does not lie in a "short-term hunger for rigor"—a reference to Merkel's sustained push for austerity measures and punishment for nations that do not stick to cost-cutting.

In a Friday Reuters report, Monti told attendees that Europe's handling of the debt crisis "should be wrapped in a long-term sustainable approach, not just to feed short-term hunger for rigor in some countries."

Excessive austerity in countries with economic woes is not only causing those countries to resent more prosperous nations insisting on cuts and sanctions, but also stands a strong chance of hobbling any chance of economic growth in debt-ridden countries so that they cannot recover. Merkel, at the behest of the Bundesbank, has been insistent on the need for countries to tighten their belts and reform their economies.

"To help European construction evolve in a way that unites, not divides," Monti said in the report, "we cannot afford that the crisis in the euro zone brings us ... the risk of conflicts between the virtuous North and an allegedly vicious South."

On Wednesday, the head of Italy's largest labor federation CGIL said that the country is risking a "social explosion" over austerity measures, and that the nation's unions plan further protests against such measures. Unions are not the only ones worried about the effects of so much cost-cutting. The employers' lobby Confindustria slashed its 2012 GDP forecast on Thursday from a previous estimate for growth of 0.2%, instead projecting a contraction of 1.6% and warning that the new estimate was optimistic, and contingent on a gradual easing of the debt crisis in the euro zone.

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