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Italy's modern-day conqueror falters under weight of eurozone crisis

Mario Monti, who was heralded as the answer to Italy's myriad problems when he was appointed to the presidency, has run into endless obstacles, and public confidence in him is waning.

By Sherelle JacobsContributor / June 22, 2012

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti attends a news conference on the second day of the G20 Summit in Los Cabos on Tuesday.

Edgard Garrido/Reuters

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Milan, Italy

Things are not going well for Italian President Mario Monti. The elegant economist's entry into politics in November, to replace disgraced former President Silvio Berlusconi, was at first greeted with great enthusiasm. Some even likened him to Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, an Italian aristocratic patrician from the 5th century B.C. who was summoned from retirement to save Rome from defeat in its war against the Aequians.

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Yet talk of the financial crises gripping Greece and Spain spreading to Italy has notched up the pressure on the statesman. His economic reform plans are coming under increased domestic scrutiny and doubts about his political future are intensifying. 

Over the weekend, Italy's unions organized rallies in Rome, bringing out tens of thousands of workers demonstrating against labor and pension reforms and calling for a better deal for the country's youths. And political frustration is by no means confined to activists – austerity fatigue is steadily spreading amongst ordinary citizens. 

According to a recent SWG-Agora poll, approval ratings for Mr. Monti have tumbled from 71 percent when he first came to power to half that figure. Opinion surveys also show that the political parties propping him up in parliament are faring no better; support for them has dwindled from 63 percent to 50.5 percent.

“'Sacrifice' is the most common word used by Mr. Monti, but what people from the middle and lower class perceive is that only workers at the lowest level have to pay taxes or make these sacrifices,” says Federica Compagnoni, a young woman from Mantua in Lombardy

Marina Robibaro, a young woman from Borgomanero in Piedmont, agrees.

“It seems that all that the government has been able to do to solve the crisis is introduce new taxes and increase the already existing ones . And they think that people can just passively endure it. It’s like being in a phase of stagnation. There’s no jobs, it’s very difficult to find one, there’s no certainty,” she says.

Losing political ground 

Depressing economic results seem to give credence to perceptions of the government's failings. Last week, Italy's official data agency released figures showing that the economy shrank by 0.8 percent in the first quarter of 2012. Investment and consumption are also in free fall, and exports are dwindling.

To a sizable proportion of Italians, these results send a clear message that Monti's austerity program, which so far has included tax hikes and painful labor and pensions reforms, are bad for growth and have disproportionately hit the middle and lower middle classes, rather than the bloated government sector.

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