Berlusconi Ally May Seek Local Currency for Use Alongside Euro

Silvio Berlusconi’s biggest political ally in the campaign for Italian parliamentary elections said he may support a plan to create a local currency that could be used alongside the euro in the region of Lombardy.

“Creating an alternative circuit, not a substitute but an alternative, is useful and can be used in moments of difficulty and economic crisis to give real help to companies,” Roberto Maroni, head of the Northern League, said yesterday in a video-recorded interview with Il Giorno posted on the newspaper’s website. “There are studies underway and we’re thinking about it. I can’t rule out that in the end we too decide to do it.”

Maroni said there were 13 examples in Europe of regional and business groups that have adopted an internal currency. Maroni is running for governor of Lombardy, the northern Italian region where the country’s business capital, Milan, is located.

Berlusconi is counting on the Northern League, which has about 5 percent support in opinion polls, to boost his chances in the Feb. 24-25 parliamentary vote. Euro-skepticism has gained traction among voters in Italy as the country sinks deeper into recession and unemployment rises. Berlusconi, a three-time former prime minister, has said Italy should remain a member of the 17-nation single currency.

Maroni said research on an alternative currency is being carried out at Milan’s Bocconi University, the school where Prime Minster Mario Monti taught economics and served as president. “We’re looking very closely at it,” Maroni said.

Lead Narrows

Berlusconi leads a coalition running second in the parliamentary campaign with 27.8 percent support nationally, according to an SWG Institute poll of voting intentions published on Feb. 8. That includes 5.2 percent support for the Northern League and 19.5 percent for Berlusconi’s own People of Liberty party.

Pier Luigi Bersani, a former communist and labor-union favorite, is the front-runner at 33.8 percent, according to the SWG poll. Berlusconi, who has traditionally derived his support from entrepreneurs and conservative Italians, has narrowed the gap with Bersani from as much as 10 percentage points in some polls in December.

Beppe Grillo’s euro-skeptic campaign was third in the SWG poll with 18.8 percent support. That’s up from 16.8 percent in a Jan. 16 poll.

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