ROME German Chancellor Angela Merkel does not want the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) to win Italy's national election, outgoing Italian Prime Minister and centrist leader Mario Monti said on Wednesday.
"Merkel fears the consolidation of parties from the left, especially in an election year for her, I don't think she has any wish to see the PD arrive in government," Monti said in an interview with Italian news agency Adnkronos.
His remarks were confirmed by his spokeswoman, who added that he was expressing his opinion and was not claiming to have spoken to Merkel directly on the matter.
A German government spokesman said, "The chancellor doesn't comment on the Italian election campaign and has not done so in the past."
The comments could nevertheless be embarrassing for the German chancellor who has been at pains to stay out of the campaign for Italy's vote this weekend.
Monti was responding to comments by centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, who has repeatedly attacked the German Chancellor and claimed Monti had already agreed to join forces with the PD after the election "with Merkel's blessing".
Polls suggest the PD is likely to win control of the lower house in the February 24-25 vote. Monti's centrist alliance is trailing in fourth place, but the PD may need its support to control the upper house of parliament and form a government.
Merkel has been keeping her lips sealed before the vote but in an unusual foray into an election campaign in a European neighbour, her foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, recently dropped a thinly veiled hint about sentiment in her government.
"We are of course not involved in the Italian election ... But whoever forms the new government, we think it is important that the pro-European course and the necessary reforms will be continued," Westerwelle told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Westerwelle is a member of the pro-market Free Democrats (FDP), junior partner in Merkel's centre-right coalition.
While Italy's PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani has tended to avoid criticising Monti in the election campaign, the prime minister has been more aggressive.
Monti has blamed the PD for watering down his attempt to reform the labour market and frequently said it is too heavily influenced by the far left and the hardline CGIL trade union.
He said on Tuesday he had "nothing in common" with the centre-left coalition.
Asked to comment on Monti's latest remarks, Bersani answered bluntly: "I don't know if it's Monti's problem or Merkel's."
In an interview on Wednesday with local German daily Straubinger Tagblatt, Merkel refused to take sides in Italy's election.
"It's up to the Italians to choose their government and I won't get involved by giving recommendations or by speculating," she said.
(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Additional reporting by Scot Stevenson in Berlin; Editing by Michael Roddy)