Berlusconi coalition division fuels calls for early elections

THE deepening divisions in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition over how Italy can meet EU demands for more robust efforts to tame a $2 trillion debt are fuelling calls for early elections.

Berlusconi reached an agreement on Tuesday with Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League party and his key coalition ally, over raising the retirement age. To secure Bossi’s support, Berlusconi agreed to resign in January and hold early elections, newspaper la Repubblica reported.

“Either this government is able to take structural reforms or we need another government,” Mario Baldassarri, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a former Berlusconi ally, said. “We will see in the next few days or week” whether Berlusconi resigns.

Bickering within Cabinet this week prevented the premier from complying with EU requests to deliver a comprehensive plan to boost growth in Italy and tackle the debt at a summit in Brussels. Berlusconi, who has pledged for more than a month to pass a plan for growth, will instead deliver a letter of intent on his plans to the summit.

“Our Italian friends know very well that we have to expect to be told tonight that there will be considerable, structural consolidation efforts on the part of Italy,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said.

Rosy Bindi, vice president of the Chamber of Deputies for the opposition Democratic Party, yesterday called for Berlusconi to step down and for a national unity government to be formed.

Italian business leaders have also pressured Berlusconi to step aside.

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