France Isn’t Ripe for Italy-Style Technocrat Reign, Monti Says

(Bloomberg) -- Former Italian premier Mario Monti said a French unity government led by technocrats is unlikely to work as an immediate solution to the political impasse that may emerge in Sunday’s legislative elections.

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Speaking at an economic conference in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, the onetime European Union commissioner recounted his experience as the leader of an administration appointed during political and financial-market turmoil in 2011, and said such circumstances aren’t yet apparent.

“I don’t believe that there is an economic emergency in France,” Monti said. “Its financial situation — fortunately or unfortunately — is not visibly as serious as in Italy in 2011.”

Polls show Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and its allies are on course to win the largest block of seats in the second round of French voting on Sunday, but fall short of an absolute majority. With the prospect of a hung parliament looming, speculation has mounted that the outcome could lead to an Italian-style unity government.

The euro zone’s third-biggest economy is long used to the concept of appointing ministers and even premiers from the ranks of its technocrat class at times of political gridlock and market tensions.

Monti said such administrations can provide transitory cover for tough decisions that career politicians don’t want to take the blame for — an eventuality that can’t be ruled out here in due course.

“I don’t exclude, in the abstract, that there could be such solutions — for example if France had to take very, very serious and urgent measures,” he said. “Sometimes there’s a need for a bridge government, ready to sacrifice itself and lose popularity, creating room for parties which may be convinced of the need for highly unpopular measures but don’t have the requisite courage.”

Speaking earlier this week to Bloomberg Television, Jean-Claude Trichet — a former European Central Bank president and Bank of France governor — doubted that his own nation would be ready for any such a step.

“A technocratic government is not in the French tradition at all — it might be a solution in other countries, namely Italy,” he said. “In France it is not the case because we are in a totally different political framework.”

Appointed as prime minister and finance minister after the collapse of Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition in 2011, Monti could be considered an archetypal technocrat, having previously been an economist and academic who then served as a European Commissioner.

Italy has tended more to call upon Treasury officials or central bankers for such roles however. The most recent example was Mario Draghi, the former ECB president and Bank of Italy governor who led a technical administration that took office February 2021.

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