- Associated Press - Monday, December 24, 2012

ROME (AP) — For someone not running for political office, Premier Mario Monti has an awfully detailed plan for how to fix Italy’s financial woes and bring the country and the rest of Europe back to economic health. And by Monday, not only had centrist leaders who want him as premier endorsed it, but so did the head of the Catholic Church in Italy.

Mr. Monti issued a 25-page agenda to “Change Italy, Reform Europe” late Sunday after announcing he had ruled out campaigning for February elections but would consider leading the next government if politicians who share his focus on reform request it.

Mr. Monti outlined the steps Italy must take to finish the reforms launched by his 13-month-long technical government to reign in Italy’s public debt, spur economic growth and bring Europe’s No. 3 economy out of recession.

“In a word, he will be the non-candidate candidate,” commentator Massimo Franco wrote in leading daily Corriere della Sera on Monday.

Some of Mr. Monti’s priorities include attracting greater foreign investment, investing in research, capitalizing on Italy’s cultural treasures, and fighting tax evasion and corruption. He called for incentives to hire women and young workers to help reduce the 36.5 percent youth unemployment rate. He said Italy’s public administration — tarnished by recent embezzlement scandals — needed to be more efficient and transparent.

In an open-letter to Italians introducing the agenda, Mr. Monti said he wanted to contribute some ideas for Italy’s future to help orient Italy’s political leaders as they embark in what is expected to be a bitter two-month campaign before Feb. 24-25 elections.

“To those forces who show a convinced and credible adhesion, I would give my appreciation, encouragement, and if asked, my guidance,” Mr. Monti wrote.

Italy’s centrist leaders, who had sought Mr. Monti as their candidate for premier, discussed the document Monday morning and enthusiastically endorsed it, according to the ANSA news agency, citing sources within the movement.

And Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Italian bishops conference, also gave it a thumbs up, praising Mr. Monti’s “innovative” proposals. Support from the church is considered vitally important for a government in largely Roman Catholic Italy, and the Vatican has made clear its admiration for Mr. Monti, a practicing Catholic.

“Mario Monti has presented a path, a way forward that is being offered to the serious and honest reflection of all,” Cardinal Bagnasco told state-run RAI radio.

Mr. Monti, a respected economist, was tapped last year to head a technical government after Silvio Berlusconi was forced to resign as premier amid market turmoil over his inability to pass necessary reforms to save Italy from Europe’s debt crisis.

Mr. Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, Parliament’s largest, supported Mr. Monti’s reforms, which included painful tax hikes and an increase in the retirement age. But Mr. Berlusconi yanked his support earlier this month, prompting Mr. Monti to resign and force elections about two months early.

Mr. Monti remains premier of a caretaker government. In an end-of-the-year press conference Sunday, he made clear his distaste for Mr. Berlusconi’s antics, refusing the scandal-tainted ex-premier’s offer to run on a center-right ticket.

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