Italian Senate Approves Austerity Measures

Rome – With Europe under mounting pressure from the United States to move quickly to tackle its debt crisis, the Italian Senate moved speedily on Friday to approve a package of austerity measures, a first step toward easing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from office.

In Athens, leaders of both main parties said they were finalizing details of a national unity government, part of European political efforts to step back from the brink of chaos.

The Italian Senate voted with unusual speed to approve the austerity measures, thus enabling the lower house to complete parliamentary approval of the package on Saturday. Opposition senators did not vote, allowing the legislation to pass by a margin of 156 to 12.

Mr. Berlusconi promised this week to step down once the measures were approved, permitting a new leader to be appointed as the head of a technocrat government.

Mario Monti, a former European commissioner, has been widely mentioned as a likely front-runner, and he could take over as early as Monday.

In Greece, following similar maneuvers to replace elected leaders with respected, veteran officials known for expertise rather than popularity at the polls, Lucas Papademos, the prime minister-designate chosen by the two main political parties, was set to announce his cabinet by early afternoon, although, throughout the process of replacing the former prime minister, George A. Papandreou, such deadlines have frequently slipped.

Initially expected at 2 p.m. local time, the announcement was put back for two hours and Greek media speculated that there was disagreement over the composition of a new cabinet. The delay was not officially explained.

Days of political turmoil roiled bond markets this week, pushing the cost of borrowing in Italy to levels that economists regard as unsustainable and adding to the pressures on politicians.

By one measure, though, the promised changes in Greece and Italy seemed to have calmed investors: the leading stock market indexes in Britain, France and Germany all posted modest gains in Friday trading.

At the same time, the White House seemed to be showing growing impatience with Europe’s efforts to prevent their debt crisis from plunging the entire global economy into retreat.

Late Thursday, President Obama called Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Giorgio Napolitano of Italy.

Speaking at a meeting of Asia and Pacific Economic Cooperation countries in Hawaii, Timothy F. Geithner, the United States treasury secretary, said Thursday: “The crisis in Europe remains the central challenge to global growth. It is crucial that Europe move quickly to put in place a strong plan to restore financial stability.”

He also urged Asian and Pacific economies to take up the slack as Europe confronts slowing economic growth. “We are all directly affected by the crisis in Europe,” he said, “but the economies gathered here are in a better position than most to take steps to strengthen growth in the face of these pressures from Europe.”

In Rome, to prolonged applause from other lawmakers, Mr. Monti took a seat in the upper house for the first time on Friday after he was appointed a senator for life. Mr. Monti has already held talks with President Napolitano and the speaker of the Senate, strengthening speculation that he is the leading candidate to succeed Mr. Berlusconi.

The legislation approved by the Senate is aimed at reducing Italy’s 1.9 trillion euro, or $2.6 trillion, public debt and boosting growth, but the European Union has already said that Italy will need to take further measures.

The proposed legislation includes selling 15 billion euros of state assets and increasing the retirement age to 67 from 65 by 2026. The new law also foresees a liberalization of closed professions and labor laws, a gradual reduction in government ownership of local services and tax breaks for companies that hire young workers.

Gaia Pianigiani reported from Rome, and Alan Cowell from London. Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Athens.