ROME, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wished likely successor Mario Monti well as Italy's Senate was to vote on new austerity measures to avert a eurozone meltdown.
Berlusconi, 75, who promised to resign after Parliament approved measures demanded by the European Union, such as raising the retirement age and tweaking the country's inflexible labor laws, sent the 68-year-old university president, think tank chairman and former European competition commissioner a congratulatory telegram praising his "highest merits in the scientific and social field" and wishing him "fruitful work in the interests of the country," the ANSA news agency reported.
Monti -- whose experience challenging entrenched powers as the European Commission's top European antitrust enforcement official includes staring down General Electric Co. and Microsoft Corp. -- was widely expected to be named prime minister this weekend, charged with forming a new "unity government" to steer Italy out of its mushrooming debt crisis.
A government largely of technocrats could be in place before markets open Monday, analysts said early Friday.
The upper house was to begin debating the austerity measures at 10:30 a.m. Rome time Friday (4:30 a.m. EST), with the bill expected to pass later in the day, despite the measures widely being seen as precursors to far more sweeping and severe reforms in the coming weeks.
Monti was expected to be among the lawmakers voting for the measures, having been named by President Giorgio Napolitano a senator for life Wednesday, transforming him from a technocrat to a newly minted politician.
The lower house Chamber of Deputies was expected to approve the austerity bill Saturday, setting the stage for Berlusconi's promised resignation and Monti's likely appointment by Napolitano.
Monti and Napolitano met Thursday night at the Quirinal Palace, the president's official residence, which housed 30 popes, four kings and 10 presidents before him.
Napolitano received a phone call from U.S. President Barack Obama, the White House said. Obama expressed his "confidence in President Napolitano's leadership" and offered his support for Napolitano's "decisive action at this challenging time," the White House said.
Besides austerity measures -- intended to ease fears the country was heading toward a default that would jeopardize the euro and potentially wreak havoc on the global economy -- the bill before Parliament abolishes mandatory fees for lawyers, architects and other professionals and lets them set up their services on an incorporated basis. Both changes seek to tackle guild-like structures in the professions that limit job access, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The bill also spells out tax breaks for employers who hire women and young people and gives incentives to local authorities to privatize public-service companies in industries such as sanitation and transportation.