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Monti: UK will stay in EU, but no need for 'unwilling Europeans'

By Irene Chapple, CNN and Mark Thompson, CNNMoney
updated 10:58 AM EST, Sat February 2, 2013
(File photo) Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti speaks in Brussels early May 24 2012.
(File photo) Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti speaks in Brussels early May 24 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Italian PM Mario Monti has said he is confident the UK will remain in the EU
  • British PM David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on the issue
  • Monti also told Davos delegates the EU "does not need unwilling Europeans"

Davos, Switzerland (CNN) -- Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said he was confident the UK would stay in the European Union, despite Prime Minister David Cameron's promise to hold a referendum on the topic.

"I am confident if there is to be a referendum, the UK citizens will decide to stay in the EU and continue to shape its future," Monti said during his special address at the World Economic Forum in Davos Wednesday.

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"The EU does not need unwilling Europeans -- we desperately need willing Europeans," he said, noting a referendum would crystallize the issue.

Monti said he was pushing to speed up the completion of the single market, which had lost pace after a successful launch 20 years ago.

"On this I agree with Prime Minister Cameron...that prosperity and growth be priority number one for Europe," he said.

Monti also used his speech to criticize the country's financial record under predecessor Silvio Berlusconi. "Italy in the past did not use the opportunities of the past to do reforms," Monti said.

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The country wasted its surplus and "lived under the illusion we could offer change without reforms," he added. "This is what one can call promising reforms, and ending up with taxes and debt and a sovereign debt crisis."

The government chose "the policy of status quo and procrastination," he said, and "the costs of inaction were dumped were dumped on our children and grandchildren until the moment of truth."

Monti's comments come as the union's relationships suffer the strain of nearly three years of crisis with the euro, the common currency to which 17 of the 27 EU nations belong.

Monti blamed "short-termism" for Italy's financial problems, which pushed the country's cost of borrowing above the crucial 7% level a year ago and put it in the center of the crisis.

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Monti is a technocrat leader appointed by President Giorgio Napolitano after the soaring borrowing costs -- and Berlusconi's colorful private life and tax scandals -- toppled the long-term leader.

Berlusconi pulled his support for Monti's government late last year, triggering elections due in February.

Monti implemented tough austerity measures and said his actions had pulled the country through the crisis, although more needed to be done.

"Today, the atmosphere around Italy has changed... I can feel Italy has gained back respect and confidence and respect for its ability to bounce back," he said.

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"I think this change is a reward for the action taken by my government with the support of the parliament, most of all it must be a reward for all Italian citizens."

Monti said the "resilience and maturity" of the Italian people had helped the country emerge from crisis.

"More, much more needs to be done for sure, but the progress is not negligible."

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