Liberals unveil new Monti-backed Italian coalition
By Benjamin Fox
The EU's Liberals have unveiled a new Mario Monti-backed Italian centrist coalition, as the party attempts to fight back against dismal poll ratings that threaten to make it one of the biggest losers in May's European elections.
The new ‘Scelta Europea’ list (European Choice), which unites a total of 13 parties, political movements and foundations, was launched on Friday (7 March) by Guy Verhofstadt, head of the Liberal faction (ALDE) in the European Parliament.
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Chief among them is the Scelta Civica party (Civic Choice), founded by Mario Monti.
However, Monti, the former European Commissioner and a prime minister until elections early last year, will not be among the list of candidates to be announced this week.
Niccolo Rinaldi, an MEP and one of Verhofstadt's deputy-leaders, is expected to be a lead candidate.
The party's manifesto is strongly federalist in tone, advocating the creation of a European redemption fund to pool sovereign debt and a new EU treaty increasing the powers of the European Parliament.
"While the EPP only sticks to austerity and the Socialists want to increase the public debt for their growth ideas, we clearly combine both, austerity and growth," Verhofstadt, also standing as the party's candidate for Commission president, told reporters on Friday.
Verhofstadt's centrist group is set to suffer heavy losses at May's elections, according to opinion polls, with its two largest delegations, the UK Liberal Democrats and German Free Democrats, both anticipated to lose most of their seats.
The latest pan-EU election survey published on Wednesday (5 March) by Pollwatch forecasts that the number of liberal MEPs will fall from 85 to 61, and be beaten into fourth place by the leftist Gue group.
Meanwhile, national opinion polls also suggest that Italy's liberal parties will struggle to win a single seat in May.
Newly appointed prime minister Matteo Renzi's Democratic party currently tops the polls on 30 percent, as the new leader enjoys a 'honeymoon' period during his first weeks in office.
Elsewhere Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement is still polling above 20 percent and, together with the recently launched Tsipras List, named after Greek leftist leader, Alexis Tsipras, is likely to provide most of Italy's new entrants to the Parliament with around 25 MEPs between them.
However, with Monti's Civic Choice having obtained 10.5 percent, the ALDE group hopes that the new party changes the dynamic of the election.
Speaking at the launch, Verhofstadt described the new party list as "an alternative to the big parties who are the basis of Europe’s current disease."