Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, an economist and former head of Italy’s central bank who helped usher in the euro as treasury minister from 1996 to 1999 and also served as prime minister and president, died Sept. 16 at a hospital in Rome. He was 95.
The Italian Senate, where he served as senator for life, announced the death. No other details were provided.
Mr. 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 from 1999 to 2006, Mr. Ciampi added prestige and authority to the largely ceremonial head-of-state position. Unlike previous presidents, Mr. 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.
Mr. Ciampi was an ardent supporter of the E.U. and its single currency. As Bank of Italy governor, he argued in favor of signing the Maastricht Treaty that mapped out conditions and timing of the monetary union.
As finance minister in then-Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s 1996 government, he battled to tame the highest debt in the E.U. 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 did not rejoin the link to the other European currencies for five years.
During his time as finance minister, Mr. Ciampi worked closely with Mario Draghi, then-director general of the Italian Treasury and later governor of the Bank of Italy before he became president of the European Central Bank.
Mr. Ciampi spent a half-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 “Clean Hands” investigations threw Italian politics into turmoil. Former prime minister 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, then-President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro asked Mr. 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, Mr. 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, Mr. Ciampi named him prime minister. Theirs was an uneasy coexistence. Mr. 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 then-President George W. Bush’s staunchest supporters of the campaign.
The two men also came to loggerheads when Mr. Ciampi refused to sign a bill that would have allowed Berlusconi to hold on to all three of his national television channels. Mr. 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.
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi was born on Dec. 9, 1920, to a bourgeois family in the Tuscan port city of Livorno. He attended a Jesuit school, joined the army in 1941, and graduated with a degree in literature from the prestigious Normal University in Pisa before taking a second degree in law.
He spent much of his early career as an administrator at the Bank of Italy. In 1973, he became secretary-general of the bank and in 1979 was appointed to the top post, central bank governor, striving during his 14-year term to defend the central bank’s independence.
In the run-up to Mr. Ciampi’s election as president, the Corriere della Sera newspaper described his main qualities as: “Diligence, accountability, discretion.”
“Except for chocolate, no other passions of his are known,” it said.
He is survived by his wife, the former Franca Pilla, whom he met at university and who was frequently seen by his side, and two children.
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