CERNOBBIO, Italy (Reuters) - Prime Minister Mario Monti said on Saturday he expected it would be only a few more months before signs of recovery start to emerge in the recession-hit Italian economy.
Addressing an agriculture conference in northern Italy, Monti spoke of "a few months, just a few months I hope that we have left before we start seeing clear signs of recovery."
Italy has been in a recession since the middle of last year, weighed down by austerity measures passed by Monti's government to cut the country's massive debt, including tax hikes, spending cuts and a pension overhaul.
Unemployment has risen to its highest since monthly records began in 2004 and unions are locked in growing disputes with companies over plant closures and layoffs.
Monti defended the austerity measures, and said he believed his government would be remembered for having helped Italy pull itself out of a deep economic crisis without needing to resort to external aid.
"I hope that one day we can say that thanks to us Italy was not colonized by Europe and it maintained its own dignified sovereignty in an increasingly integrated Europe," he said.
He spoke at the same time as thousands of trade unionists were holding a rally in Rome against the government's spending cuts and rising unemployment, at which union leader Susanna Camusso said his austerity policies had failed.
Monti replaced former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last November when Italy's bond yields were soaring and the country came close to a Greek-style debt disaster.
This week the Treasury raised a record-breaking 18 billion euros through a retail bond sale, which Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli hailed as a sign of a turnaround in perceptions of the country's debt.
Monti said an agreement by EU leaders at a Brussels summit this week to allow the European Central Bank to supervise banks from next year would also help speed up the resolution of the euro zone crisis.
The European Commission has proposed making the ECB responsible for supervision as a step towards a banking union in which euro zone countries and any others that want to join would together resolve problem banks and protect savers' deposits.
"This is another step to accelerate the end of the crisis and to strengthen European governance through a more efficient supervision of banking activities aimed at avoiding contagion risks," Monti said.
(Reporting By Antonella Ciancio, Writing by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Rosalind Russell)