With Italy heading into a pivotal election month, Pier Luigi Bersani, head of the center-left Democratic Party, is now the front-runner to be Italy’s next prime minister. The following is an edited transcript of his interview on Thursday with Anthony Faiola of The Washington Post.
Q. During the election campaign, there has been back and forth attacks between interim Prime Minister Mario Monti and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. You have seemingly been watching their fight from the sidelines. What do you make of it?
A. Mr Berlusconi was responsible for the premature fall of Monti's government. And Mr. Monti did not like it one bit. We kept our promise to support Monti until the very end — we kept our promise, although it was not easy. So now we just keep watching.
Q. While Monti was prime minister, he pushed through a series of difficult reforms which were seen as pulling Italy back from financial collapse. Which of Monti's reform would you change if you win?
A. I’d rather add more reforms, enforcing or making adjustments to his reforms which, I have to add, were conditioned by a parliament whose majority was still in Berlusconi's hands.
Q. Just some fine tuning, then?
A. Yes, so as to make them louder.
Q. Can you be more precise? Give some examples?
A. A law against corruption. A law setting clear rules for the life and activity of political parties, something that our own constitution asked us to do but still does not exist. Civil rights laws, such as the right for workers to take part in writing company-wide contracts. Civil union for gay couples. Citizenship rights for immigrants. Legality, morality and citizen rights are our first mission.
Q. Italy’s main labor union, the CGIL, is demanding changes to Monti’s key pension reforms. Will you agree to make them, given that they are major backers of your campaign?
A. It is not a request of the union as much as a request of our own party, which made it abundantly clear in the parliamentary debate. Even the minister who crafted the reform, Ms. Elsa Fornero, had to admit that this reform has flaws that have created social problems, and it has to be solved, for it threatens to leave plenty of citizens jobless and pension less. . . . This will have to be solved.
Q. How do you reconcile your free market oriented reforms made as cabinet minister in the 1990s and 2000s with the leftist tradition you come from? Should the foreign markets be afraid of the left returning to power in Italy?
A. Markets have nothing to be afraid of, as long as they accept the end of monopolies and dominant positions. I understand how weird it might seem to see the Italian left open up markets. But this comes from the fact that in Italy, the right wing has no free market tradition, tends to give more power to the state and is more heavily influenced by professional lobbies.
Q. European nations, led by Germany, have agreed, to strict budget deficit and debt limits. Will you abide by those rules?
A. We were those who took Italy into the euro zone. It was Berlusconi who derailed things [with Europe]. We are the most pro-European party in our country. Not a socialist party, but a democratic one. We will work to improve agreements that appear insufficient to grant growth, but never to betray them.
Q. The coalition letter of intent you signed with the left-wing party of Puglia Gov. Nichi Vendola states that austerity measures must be “negated” if they become a dogma that does not reduce unemployment or social injustice. What does that mean?
A. Austerity “has to be made stable by combining it with growth policies We'll confirm austerity, but accompanied by intelligent growth policies. It's a question that European progressive forces are discussing. Obama himself is asking Europeans to address this.
Q. If needed, would you reach a deal with Monti after the election to achieve a stable government? What would you offer him in return? The presidency?
A. We are open to collaboration. Not exchanging favors, but signing a pact for reforms and reconstruction of the country.
Q. If elected, what will your policy be on Afghanistan?
A. Our policy is being loyal to our alliances, but not silent. We are interested in debating with our allies, reconsidering gradually our presence in Afghanistan, like Obama is doing. We want our country and Europe to be more present in the Mediterranean, and to loyally talk about it with the U.S. For we believe that Europe and Italy should encourage a positive evolution of the “Arab Spring,” and their democratic outcome.
Q. Would you back intervention in Syria?
A. We think Russia, in particular, should add her voice to put more pressure towards a common peaceful solution. To stop the carnage through a compact of diplomacy. We don't believe in armed intervention on so delicate a terrain.