- Mario Monti is in talks with centrist groups to stand for election in February
- Italy's borrowing costs rose and its stock market fell sharply after Monti made clear he's stepping down earlier than expected
- Financial markets, European leaders and the Church have all urged Monti to stay in politics to safeguard reforms
- A Monti-led centrist alliance could capture 15 to 25 percent of the Italian vote, according to estimates
Mario Monti is in talks with centrist groups urging him to stand in Italy's elections early next year it emerged on Monday as pressure mounted on the technocrat prime minister from the financial markets, fellow European leaders and the Church to stay in politics to safeguard his reforms.
Italy's government borrowing costs rose and its stock market fell sharply after his surprise decision over the weekend to stand down earlier than expected rekindled uncertainty over one of the eurozone's more vulnerable economies.
Mr Monti, whose economic reforms have steered Italy out of the centre of the eurozone's sovereign debt crisis in the past year, said he would step down when the budget is passed, possibly as early as this month, triggering an election in February.
Amid revived concern in Brussels and among investors that Italy could forsake its recent reforms, centrist politicians were in talks with him encouraging him to stand as a candidate. He was said to be in discussions with Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the head of Ferrari who launched a political movement last month, and Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of the centrist Catholic UDC party.
Centrist politicians said they expected Mr Monti to give his answer within a week. If he decided to run as their candidate he would make a formal declaration after parliament approves the 2013 budget law, possibly in the week before Christmas.
Mr Monti played down suggestions he was about to leap from unelected technocrat to campaigning politician. "I am not considering this particular issue at this stage," he said in Oslo where the EU was collecting the Nobel peace prize. "All my efforts are being devoted to the completion of the remaining time of the current government, which appears to be a rather short time, but still requires an intensive application of my energies."
Market reactions to his weekend decision "should not be dramatised", he added. He was confident that whatever government came to office after elections would be in line with Italy's "great efforts" of the past year, he said.
Italy's influential Catholic establishment weighed in on Monday, with Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa delivering thinly veiled criticism of the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi for triggering Mr Monti's resignation by withdrawing his party's support in parliament last week.
"What leaves one aghast is the irresponsibility of those who think of fixing themselves when the house is still burning," he told the daily Corriere della Sera, adding that "it would be a mistake in the future not to make use of those who have contributed in a rigorous and competent way to the credibility of our country."
Francois Hollande, the French president who was also attending the ceremony in Oslo, appeared confident Mr Monti would still play a role in politics. "It's a pity for the short term, but in one month or two months, it will appear that Mr Monti is able to join a coalition or to go forward to stabilise Italy," he told Reuters news agency.
Herman van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said he did not want to interfere in Italian politics, then added: "Mario Monti was a great prime minister of Italy and I hope the policies he put in place will continue after the elections."
Mr Berlusconi on Monday night slammed European politicians and some foreign newspapers for their "offensive" reaction to his comeback and the freedom of Italians to choose in elections. Such responses were the "umpteenth speculative move" to weaken Italian companies and make them "easy prey" for foreign buyers, he said in a statement.
Opinion polls at present point to a fragmented parliament emerging from elections, with the centre-left Democratic party taking around 30 percent of the vote, followed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and Mr Berlusconi's centre-right party. Supporters of a centrist alliance with Mr Monti say they could capture 15 to 25 percent of the vote.