The prospect of a return to traditional Italian politics with its frequent crises and instability has caused European markets to wobble and put pressure on the euro.
Milan’s stock index fell, as did shares elsewhere.
Newspaper headlines focussed on the impact of the news that prime minister Mario Monti is to step down early – and that former premier Silvio Berlusconi may be tempted to throw his hat back into the electoral ring, again.
“Mario Monti was and is a great prime minister for Italy. And his efforts in terms of fiscal consolidation and reforms in all the different sectors of the Italian economy are absolutely necessary. We have to continue these policies in any case,” said the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.
That view is likely to be shared by many European leaders. But it is the votes of ordinary Italians that will count.
With elections now expected in February, the race could become a case of “Which is worse: Monti’s austerity, or Berlusconi’s antics?”.
“We Italians need to worry, not because of the current crisis which is serious, but more because this buffoon (Berlusconi) is around. I hope he gets a good smash in the face and then ‘arrivederci’, he can go back to the Cayman Islands,” said Sonia Proietta, a stallholder in Rome’s Campo di Feori market.
There is speculation in Italy that Berlusconi may be eyeing up another spell in office to protect himself from legal battles. He is accused of having sex with an underage prostitute.
His party, currently in the doldrums, arguably needs him.