Updated: Silvio Berlusconi Offers To Resign
Update at 2:26 p.m. ET. In a meeting with Italy's president, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi offered to resign after Parliament approved a budget filled with new austerity measures.
The Guardian reports that President Giorgio Napolitano broke the news in a statement that read in part:
Once this engagement is fulfilled, the Prime Minister will hand in his mandate to the head of state who will proceed with appropriate consultations, paying close attention to the positions and proposals of all political forces.
In essence, The Guardian adds, Berlusconi is following in the footsteps of Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou, who offered to resign after his parliament passed the European Union bailout deal.
This news also comes on a day when the yield on Italian bonds soared to 15-year highs. That only highlighted the problem facing the country: Its borrowing costs are ballooning as the bond market worries that it hasn't put its financial house in order.
Update at 2:46 p.m. ET: The AP reports that Berlusconi has now confirmed the news, saying his decision to offer his resignation was for the good of the country and in an effort to "settle financial markets that have lost confidence in Italy's ability to rein in debt and spur growth."
The AP adds:
Berlusconi said late Tuesday that he would prefer to call early elections, but that the decision rests with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.
In comments that marked a dramatic shift from his normally defiant tone, Berlusconi conceded he had lost his parliamentary majority during a routine vote Tuesday and that "things like who leads or who doesn't lead the government" is less important than doing "what is right for the country."
Our Original Post Continues:
The pressure on Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi to resign continues today after his country's Parliament approved the government's budget — but with less than the 316 votes he needed to maintain a ruling majority.
The budget got 308 aye votes. But 321 members abstained from voting, The Associated Press says.
As the wire service says, though, while "the opposition immediately demanded that Berlusconi step down to calm the bond markets ... he has never listened to any calls to resign before his term ends in 2013."
There are fears, as the BBC reminds us, that Italy's weak economic growth and nearly $3 trillion in debt "could make it the next country to fall in the eurozone debt crisis."
"World leaders," The Wall Street Journal notes, "have been urging the premier to take key steps to reboot Italy's economy, but the government has repeatedly failed to deliver. ... Now, Mr. Berlusconi's options are more limited. He is likely to visit the offices of Italy's head of state, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, to discuss whether he should step down. In such a scenario, Mr. Napolitano would then hold a series of consultation with Italy's main political parties to decide whether to call early elections or form a new government."
According to The Guardian, not only are Berlusconi's opponents urging him to step down, so is a key ally. "News is breaking that Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League party that governs in coalition with Berlusconi, has called on him to resign."