Story highlights

Italy's foreign minister expresses support for Mario Monti

Berlusconi praises Monti's "outstanding achievements"

It is unclear how soon elections may take place

Italy is the world's eighth largest economy

Rome CNN  — 

Facing international worries about the potential global impact of the country’s financial crisis, Italy gave indications Thursday that there may be growing support for former EU commissioner Mario Monti to take the helm.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he supports an emergency government of national unity led by Monti.

“He has an international profile that no one can deny,” Frattini said, according to his press office.

And Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is expected to step down after a series of austerity measures are adopted, gave high praise to Monti. In a post on Berlusconi’s official Facebook page, he wrote that he had sent a telegram to Monti congratulating him on being appointed by the president to be a “senator for life, reflecting the outstanding achievements” in certain arenas. “I wish him a successful job in the national interest,” Berlusconi said.

Italian news agency ANSA reported that Berlusconi “seems to have changed his position on the possibility” of supporting an emergency government led by Monti.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has said that after the Italian parliament passes the reforms, either an interim government will be formed or elections will be called.

Italian authorities say that if officials opt for elections, they would take place in January and likely result in a new government by February, at the earliest. The prime minister would typically remain in office until a transition takes place, though mounting market fears have raised questions about whether lawmakers might take action before that time.

Investor confidence plummeted Wednesday when the yield on 10-year Italian government bonds rose above 7%, the level at which other European countries – including Greece, Portugal and Ireland – have sought international bailouts.

As the eighth-largest economy in the world and the fourth-largest in Europe, Italy is seen as vulnerable to the debt crisis that has brought down Greece, although economists say Italy remains solvent.

Earlier this week, Berlusconi told Italian newspaper La Stampa that he believed “Now it is time for Alfano. He will be our premier candidate. He is extremely good, much better than one can expect, and his leadership has been accepted by all.”

Berlusconi was referring to former Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, who has been known as his hand-picked successor.

But other names were floated, including Monti and Gianni Letta, Berlusconi’s chief of staff.

Napolitano announced Wednesday that he had nominated Monti as “senator for life,” a title bestowed on those who have held distinguished roles, raising speculation about his candidacy.

A Yale-trained economist and professor at Milan’s Bocconi University, Monti has also worked as an international adviser to the investment firm Goldman Sachs.

Dubbed “Super Mario” for his work in international finance, the former EU commissioner gained notoriety for his role in blocking a merger between U.S. firms Honeywell International and General Electric, thought to be a move that highlighted Europe’s newfound regulatory clout.