MILAN (AP) — Mario Monti handed in his resignation to Italy's president in Rome on Friday, bringing to a close his "difficult but fascinating" 13-month technical government and preparing the country for national elections.
With the short trip to the president's office after bidding a farewell to foreign diplomats and then his Cabinet, Monti kept his pledge to step down as soon as Parliament approved a budget law.
President Giorgio Napolitano, who tapped Monti in November 2011 to draft reforms to shield Italy from the continent's debt crisis, asked Monti to stay on as head of a caretaker government until the national vote, expected in February.
Napolitano will meet with leaders of Italian parties Saturday morning before dissolving Parliament.
The question facing Italy, the eurozone's third-largest economy and with the second-largest debt as a proportion of GDP, is if the vote will mark a return to politics as usual, or if the government of technocrats succeeded in some measure in preparing the way to continue the path of reforms and sacrifices.
Monti is expected to announce Sunday whether he will run to head a political government — backed by a collection of small centrist parties and movements, and perhaps even Silvio Berlusconi.
Berlusconi has been toying with a return to electoral politics — after first pulling support in Parliament for Monti's government then inviting him to run under a conservative banner. The leader of the center-left, Pier Luigi Bersani, is among those critical of a Monti candidacy, saying that parties built around personalities "is not good for Italy."
A survey by the Demopolis institute for La7 private TV aired on Friday showed that two-thirds of Italians believe the Monti government had succeeded in restoring credibility to Italy and more than half said it had made progress in the fight against tax evasion.
On the minus side, a huge majority of 80 percent, however, criticized his government's restoration of a tax on primary residences. The survey polled 1,040 Italians.
In what was his last official public act as premier, Monti told foreign diplomats in Rome Friday that his year-old technical government had rendered the country "more trustworthy."
He called his tenure "difficult but fascinating."
"The work we did ... has made the country more trustworthy, besides more competitive and attractive to foreign investors," Monti told diplomats, who gave him a standing ovation. "I hope that it can continue this way also in the next legislative session."
Monti cited structural reforms, such as measures to improve competition and liberalize services, as well as the recently approved anti-corruption law.
Monti's address to diplomats coincided with the lower house of Parliament's final approval of the budget law, which the premier promised to see through before stepping down.
Monti took over as head of a technical government in November 2011 as Italy's borrowing costs soared in a clear market vote of no-confidence in then-Premier Berlusconi's ability to reform Italy's economy.
Monti announced he would resign after Berlusconi's parliamentary party withdrew its support for his government, accelerating national elections initially set for April and now expected in February.
Earlier Friday, Monti quipped that the impending end of his technical government "was not the fault of the Mayan prophecy," though it came to an end on the same day as the ancient Mayan calendar, which had prompted unfulfilled doomsday predictions.