Italy’s former President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, a one-time prime minister and ex-central bank governor who helped pave the way for the country’s adoption of the euro, died on Friday. He was 95.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi paid tribute to Ciampi for “serving Italy with passion,” in a message on Twitter as Italy’s main news media on Friday reported the death in a Rome hospital.
Ciampi’s name was “linked to the birth of the euro and to Italy’s not-certain participation in the leading group” of nations that joined the single currency, President Sergio Mattarella said in a statement. “He later suffered because of the European Union’s uncertainties and contradictions until its most recent difficulties.”
As president between 1999 and 2006, Ciampi added prestige and authority to the largely ceremonial head of state position. Unlike previous presidents, Ciampi never belonged to a political party. He used his few direct powers sparingly, such as when he refused to sign a law that would have allowed then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to tighten his grip on the country’s media market.
Ciampi was a leading “example for all those who dedicate their lives to Europe,” European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said in a statement. Ciampi wanted the ECB to be independent of governments and his legacy “will enlighten and encourage future generations .”
Ciampi was an ardent supporter of the European Union and its single currency. As Bank of Italy governor, he argued in favor of signing the 1992 Maastricht Treaty that mapped out conditions and timing of the monetary union.
As finance minister in Romano Prodi’s 1996 government, he battled to tame the highest debt in the EU to avoid Italy’s exclusion from the euro.
It was an uphill struggle. In 1992, a speculative attack mounted by U.S. financier George Soros forced the Italian lira out of the exchange rate mechanism, a precursor to the euro. The lira didn’t rejoin the link to the other European currencies for five years.
During his time as finance minister Ciampi worked closely with with Mario Draghi, then Treasury’s Director General and later Bank of Italy Governor before he became European Central Bank President.
Ciampi spent half a century at the Bank of Italy, working his way up to the top job, which he held for 14 years until
1993. During the end of his tenure, the so-called Clean Hands investigations threw Italian politics into turmoil. Former premier Bettino Craxi was sentenced to prison for taking bribes in exchange for doling out contracts, discrediting his Socialist Party and their Christian Democrat allies.
The two parties, which had governed Italy through various coalitions since the end of World War II, were decimated. Italians voted in a referendum to overhaul the electoral system that had allowed the same parties to stay in power for so long.
In this political vacuum, President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro asked Ciampi to form a technocratic government to oversee the process. Ciampi resigned eight months later, paving the way for new elections.
In light of the Tangentopoli or “Bribesville” scandals of the early 1990s, Ciampi’s distance from daily politics had made him a natural choice for the presidency, the biggest accolade for a seasoned statesman and one that seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti had coveted. The president, who serves a seven-year term, has responsibility for designating the leader of the winning coalition to form a government after elections. He also has to sign off on legislation voted by parliament.
When Berlusconi in 2001 secured the biggest majority in parliament since World War II, Ciampi named him prime minister. Theirs was an uneasy co-existence. Ciampi, who suffered the horrors of war as a soldier in Kosovo in the 1940s, opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Berlusconi was one of President George W. Bush’s staunchest supporters of the campaign.
The two men also came to loggerheads when Ciampi refused to sign a bill that would have allowed Berlusconi to hold on to all three of his national television channels. Ciampi said his move, rare for presidents, was needed to ensure competition in Italy’s media market, though parliament later passed a modified version of the legislation that enabled Berlusconi to retain control of all his channels.
Ciampi is survived by his wife Franca, son Claudio and daughter Gabriella.