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Monti speaks on Italy's woes and Bill Gates' wife

 Monti speaks on Italy's woes and Bill Gates' wife
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Economist Mario Monti is the former EU Competition Commissioner who took on Microsoft with anti-monopoly proceedings. Currently he’s President of Milan’s Bocconi University and chairman of the European think tank Bruegel. EuroNews spoke to him about the possibility of a grand coalition of Italy’s centre left and right parties, the Spanish economy’s rapid growth, Fiat’s turnaround and Bill Gates’ wife.

“If no clear winner emerges from the Italian elections, do you think there should be a grand coalition,and what could that achieve?”

Mario Monti: “There are things to be done regardless of who wins the election or if there is no clear winner: especially changes which would make Italy more competitive in terms of the economy and fairer from a social point of view. What needs to be done particularly is to eliminate the special privileges, the financial advantages that many areas of Italian industry enjoy, which hold back development, and mean that young people can’t get jobs and play an active part in society. I believe that these problems are so big, so significant, that they will generate such a lot of opposition from certain groups in Italian society, that I think that what we need is some unity among politicians in response to some of these problems. If, after the election, there has to be a grand coalition or something else, I think that that will depend on the actual election results and the political situation at that time.”

EuroNews: “Why would those in power take the political risk of ending those special privileges and the financial advantages that you talked about?”

Mario Monti: “Several years ago, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Junker, posed this problem to economists: ‘We know what we have to do in the way of economic reform in our countries, but help us on how to put those policies into effect and at the same time, not alienate voters and so lose elections.’ I believe that Junker was too pessimistic in his analysis, because we have had several cases in Europe of political leaders who have carried out courageous economic reforms in their countries and who, nonetheless, have won elections after that. Examples are Tony Blair and Aznar.”

EuroNews: “Is it true that Spain has overtaken Italy in terms of per capita GDP? And if that is the case, how could it happen?”

Mario Monti: “There’s no doubt that Spain’s economic development has been much faster than Italy’s and that it has risen in the international rankings. In general, Spain has been well governed and there’s something that is intangible but very important: these days the Spanish are more optimistic, they have more confidence in themselves and in the future compared to some other countries and particularly compared to Italy. That could be because Spain is a younger country in terms of democracy and has more young people – demographically.”

EuroNews: “In Italy how much do special interest lobby groups influence economic policy?”

Mario Monti: “In Italy, it is the government and Parliament that set economic policy. It is true, there is a very strong tradition of consulting with groups representing different sections of society. The government has to consult with every group that asks for that and must conduct a public consultation process so that everyone possible can express their opinion on any government bill. But the government should not, I would say, allow particular groups the power of veto, whether they’re are trade-unions or employers.”

“How did Fiat turn itself around from being almost bankrupt to where it’s now a leading international company?”

Mario Monti: “Because it was very well managed, because it concentrated on its core-business, because perhaps it thought less about being central to the Italian economic and political system, and concentrated more on its own business, but especially because the state, when Fiat went through its last crisis, a few years ago, did not intervene with financial assistance. At other times in the company’s history, the state had tried to protect it, like a mother with its child. For example the state prevented foreigners from acquiring Alfa Romeo because that would have introduced competition to the Italian market. It was what was done at the time – giving in to Fiat.”

EuroNews: “Is flexibility such a bad thing? Does it really mean that workers don’t have job security? How do you explain to a university graduate that not having a full-time job presents opportunities rather than a threat?”

Mario Monti: “I’d tell that graduate that having a full time job can be a fine thing for him. But his chances of getting that kind of employment are going to diminish in the future. For that reason, instead of having a generation where a few people have complete job security and many don’t, it’s better to have a system that allows more people more opportunities to find work, even if it is less guaranteed. If feel that flexibility should not mean fewer guarantees.”

EuroNews: “Final question. You were Bill Gates’ worst nightmare. How do you feel about that?”

Mario Monti: “Completely relaxed. I don’t know if I was his worst nightmare. After the decision that I took on Microsoft, I met his wife, Melinda Gates, at a conference. I introduced myself – her husband wasn’t there on that occasion – she said to me, sympathetically: ‘Yes, yes, we talked about you a lot at home.’”