For his first hundred days at the helm, Italian technocratic Prime Minister Mario Monti has enjoyed a respite from the political chaos that usually bedevils Italian politics. Approval ratings were high (as high as 70 percent in the beginning), and his support in parliament stemmed from a broad coalition combining the major parties of the center-right and center-left.
Now some of that shine is wearing off. Monti’s poll numbers have been falling consistently since his inauguration, and now nearly 50 percent of Italians lack confidence in his administration, reports the FT. Making matters worse, a proposed labor reform that would make it easier for companies to fire workers is meeting resistance from Italy’s strong labor unions who have threatened to strike if Monti continues to pursue reforms. The unions have significant political backing, and now the center-left half of his coalition is refusing to support these measures as well.
Italy is edging towards a moment of truth. Despite the repeated reminders from international investors that that Italy needs to bite the bullet and accept these labor market changes, it is becoming clear that Italians really, really don’t want these and other domestic reforms needed to put the country back on track.
This puts Monti in a difficult situation, facing down harsh fiscal realities on one side and on the other a public with no appetite for sacrifices. With an election approaching next year, Monti will need to find a way to placate both the Italian public and the international financial community. Monti’s decisions here, and his fate in the upcoming election, will be the clearest indication yet of which way Italy is headed.