RIMINI, Italy (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said on Sunday the end of the economic crisis in his country was in sight and that the euro zone must not let the single currency become a source of friction between the north and south in the bloc.
Speaking at a conference in Rimini, he said the euro zone's third largest economy was in better shape than it was a year ago while people were more aware of the difficulties it faces.
"A year ago we thought less than we do today that we were in a crisis but I believe we were in it more," Monti said. He said that he saw the end of the crisis "getting closer in some ways".
Since taking over from Silvio Berlusconi, who stepped down in November to avert a Greek-style debt crisis, Monti has embarked on a reform program including labor market and pension overhauls, spending cuts and deregulation.
Monti said his government had not expected its reforms to have immediate growth-stimulating effects on the recession-hit economy.
But he said he had hoped they would have led to Italy's borrowing costs falling faster than they have done, which would have made it easier for the recovery to begin.
Monti reiterated his concerns about tensions between northern and southern countries in the euro zone, as the bloc attempts to resolve its economic crisis to keep the single currency intact.
"It would be a major tragedy if the euro, the crown of the European dream of integration and unity ... became a factor of disintegration, of the birth of prejudices, of north against south," he said.
Monti warned earlier this month in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel that he was concerned about growing anti-euro, anti-German and anti-EU sentiment in the parliament in Rome, noting the threat of a "psychological break up" in the bloc.
A German-led austerity drive in Europe has provoked anger and resentment in southern European countries such as Greece and Italy, while exasperation is growing in northern countries over the economic woes in the southern states.
Reporting By Paolo Biondi; Writing by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Alison Williams