The newest international cover of TIME features Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. The text below his face poses the daunting question: “Can this man save Europe?
That’s a pretty tall order for one man. Monti, a longtime economist and professor, took office only in November of last year. He and his cabinet of fellow technocrats will be in power for a total of roughly a year and a half. Italy will hold elections in early 2013.
A lot has changed since Monti first accepted Italian President Giorgio Napolitano’s mandate to step in as prime minister. Back then, everyone (including TIME) wondered if he could save Italy. Now he has to save all of Europe?
Expectations are higher because so far Monti has taken a hard line. By January he had already enacted a strict set of budgetary measures and structural reforms aimed at strengthening the Italian economy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others, lauded his efforts.
Then again, many would say that saving Italy and saving Europe are one and the same. An Italian default would likely mean the failure of the euro and the start of a worldwide economic crisis. The encouraging words offered to Monti can be characterized as an attempt to will Italy to make it through the euro zone crisis. “You can do it” really means “you must.”
This is not to say that the support is insincere. On the contrary, Monti has also had an appeasing effect on foreign leaders and international media. Former Prime Minister Berlusconi, shall we say… alienated, Italians and others, with his cavalier attitude and political grandstanding. (For more, please see: “Italy: The Economic Crisis Pushes Berlusconi Out.”) Monti is far more serious. He stresses severe changes that must begin in government.
In his interview with TIME, Monti said that the Italian public has been disillusioned by the country’s politics. To regain their trust, the government must institute a meritocracy. That means politicians have some accountability.
The result is a greater respect for the Italian government and therefore more willingness to cooperate. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, besides praising the steps Italy is taking toward stabilizing its economy, repeatedly stressed the strong friendship between the U.S. and Italy during Monti’s official Washington visit on Thursday.
As Helene Cooper writes in The New York Times online, the glowing reception of Monti differs from the “frozen correctness” that characterized Obama’s treatment of Berlusconi. Monti even won over Berlusconi, who last week endorsed the Monti administration in an interview with the Financial Times.
That in itself is no small feat. If he can do that, maybe Monti can save Europe.
(The photo of Mario Monti is by Youssef Meftah of the World Economic Forum via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see the official U.S. government video of Monti’s visit with Obama at the White House, please check below.)