BERLIN (AP) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti on Wednesday threw his support behind a new tax on financial transactions, backing a push by Germany and France, but said he would prefer to have it apply across the whole European Union.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have suggested it might suffice to enact such a tax among the 17-nation euro countries. Monti said he would rather have it applied across the full 27-nation EU - which would be more difficult because of U.K. opposition - but did not rule out a eurozone-only deal.
"We are open to supporting this initiative at the EU level," Monti said at a press conference with Merkel during his first visit to Berlin since taking over from Silvio Berlusconi in November.
While the Berlusconi government had rejected a new financial levy outright, Monti has said he was thought it was a good idea, particularly as a means of reducing the tax burden on families.
Sarkozy, who faces an election in April, has said France could even enact the tax unilaterally, but Germany has been more guarded.
Merkel earlier this week, after meeting with Sarkozy in Berlin, said there's no agreement yet on a so-called "Tobin tax" inside her own governing coalition. She called for European leaders to clarify their stance on the matter by March.
The European Commission has estimated that the Tobin tax could raise as much as euro57 billion ($77 billion) a year in Europe. These funds could be used to help reduce the substantial budget deficits crippling European economies.
The tax would be a tiny percentage of the value of a trade - the French government proposed 0.1 percent on bonds and shares and 0.01 percent on more complex derivatives. Although some countries already have a minimal duty on share trading, the new proposal would not only increase the scope and size of the tax but also siphon off some revenue to Brussels.
There is no final decision yet, however, on what financial instruments would be taxed and whether currency trades - which make up a large slice of worldwide transactions - would be targeted as well.
Monti, who studied at Yale with economist James Tobin, who first proposed the levy, said his one-time mentor likened the tax's popularity through history to the Loch Ness Monster.
"You see it, it disappears, then reappears," Monti said. "In this phase I think it has more sense than in others given the velocity of financial transactions, which can cause damage, and not just benefits."
In Italy, Monti has already instituted painful austerity measures and said he planned to work closely with Merkel and Sarkozy in the coming weeks and months for wider European solutions to the crisis.
He said Italy should not be seen as "a possible source of infection. ... Italy can do its full part, next to Germany and next to France, for stability."
Merkel and Sarkozy on Monday stressed that they saw boosting economic growth in the 17-nation eurozone as a priority, a recognition that the focus on austerity cuts is unlikely to get Europe out of its debt crisis.
Monti said he and Merkel agreed that they should strive to create real economic growth, not "ephemeral growth that is based on emergency measures, which given room to deficits and inflation."