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Pier Luigi Bersani, the man polls show is likely to become Italian prime minister after this month's elections, vowed Tuesday to continue economic reforms credited with restoring his country's credibility.
Speaking at the German Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank in Berlin, Bersani sought to burnish his pro-European credentials, saying he wanted to see a "United States of Europe" as a response to the eurozone debt crisis.
"We know that we must guarantee that we are stable. We know that we need to continue the path of reforms and even toughen them," said the former communist, who now heads Italy's Democratic Party (PD).
Bersani's party is ahead in the polls although a centre-right alliance led by former premier Silvio Berlusconi has been gaining ground in recent weeks.
Analysts say that the PD is likely to win enough votes to take the lower house of parliament but may struggle to win an absolute majority in the Senate, where Italy's 20 regions are represented.
In this case, he may be forced to seek an alliance with a centrist coalition headed by current Prime Minister Mario Monti, handing the former European commissioner a key post in a new government.
"Italy needs deep-seated reforms to solve its problems," said Bersani, adding that he was aware that austerity and budgetary consolidation were essential to get the recession-mired country back on its feet.
"Of course we have got over the worst bit of the crisis but I'm not sure that we are fully protected from future crises," he warned, saying he wanted further European integration as an answer to the debt emergency.
"We want a United States of Europe. This is not just empty words. A common currency should not just be a currency, but we want to act together," he said.