Italy's Berlusconi Says Monti 'Too German-Centric'

W460

Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday said Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti's policies were "too German-centric" and bonds spreads were "an invention" to bring down his government, as he begins his sixth election campaign in two decades.

"Monti followed policies that were too German-centric. All the economic statistics have worsened," Berlusconi said in an interview with Canale 5 television, part of his media empire.

"What do we care about the spread?" said the 76-year-old tycoon, referring to the differential between Italian and benchmark German bonds -- a closely-watched measure of investor unease.

"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 government which collapsed in November 2011 when he resigned amid a wave of panic on the financial markets.

The spread, which had narrowed to under 300 basis points last week, has risen sharply since Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party announced it was withdrawing its support for Monti's government.

The spread widened to 349 points on Tuesday.

Monti, who has not ruled out running, also took to the airwaves in an interview with public channel Rai Uno in which he said the government had to be "very careful" about the spread.

He also warned against populism saying that during campaigns "there is a tendency to over-simplify things, to present magical solutions, to follow their visceral instincts."

Berlusconi meanwhile said Italy's record-high public debt of nearly 2.0 trillion euros ($2.6 trillion), or around 120 percent of gross domestic product, was "not as high as they want to make you think".

He also said that only 10 percent of the party's candidates in elections now expected in February would be chosen from current lawmakers.

Fifty percent of the candidates will come from the business community, 20 percent from local government and 10 percent from the world of culture, he said, without explaining where the remaining 10 percent would come from.

Berlusconi also said he would be holding talks with Roberto Maroni, leader of the populist Northern League party, on forming a possible coalition.

Berlusconi's PDL and the Northern League won the last election in 2008 but there have been tensions between the two parties in recent years.

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