Italian PM Monti in Brussels to meet ambassador

January 5, 2012 - 2:55 PM

ROME (AP) — The purpose of Italian Premier Mario Monti's unannounced trip to Brussels on Thursday was to meet the country's ambassador to the European Union, a government official said.

Monti, who still has an apartment in the Belgian capital from his time as a European commissioner, made a stopover in Brussels to discuss European issues with the Italian ambassador, said the official, who declined to be named in line with the government's briefing policy.

The Italian premier is headed to Paris on Friday to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy, ahead of a visit to German Chancellor Angela Merkel next week and British Prime Minister David Cameron the week after.

Monti's trip to Brussels, which was leaked to the press Thursday afternoon, triggered speculation about potential talks with EU officials on how to stop Italy from being engulfed in Europe's worsening debt crisis. But spokespeople for high-level European officials, including European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, quickly denied that any meetings were foreseen.

Italy has found itself in financial trouble in recent months, with investors growing increasingly reluctant to lend the highly-indebted country more money. Its long-standing prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was forced to resign late last year amid the worsening economic situation, making room for a caretaker government under Monti.

The country also had to accept much closer supervision of its fiscal policy from the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, as Monti pushed pension reforms, new taxes and spending cuts through parliament. He is still struggling to get union to agree to far-reaching labor reforms.

Italy is the eurozone's third-largest economy, and with a debt load of around 120 percent of economic output it is seen as too big to be bailed out. Concerns over Italy and the currency union as a whole weighed on the euro Thursday, with the single currency tumbling 1.1 percent to $1.279.

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Gabriele Steinhauser in Brussels contributed to this story.