MILAN (AP) — Former Italian Prime Minister and President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, a highly respected economist who helped usher in the euro as treasury minister, died on Friday. He was 95.
Ciampi's death, after a long illness, was confirmed by the Italian Senate, where he served as senator for life. The senator had been hospitalized in recent days at the Pio XI hospital in Rome after his condition had worsened, news agency ANSA reported, citing Ciampi's doctor. No other details were provided.
Ciampi served as premier of Italy in 1993-1994, when he headed postwar Italy's first technocratic government during the sweeping "Clean Hands" corruption probe that reshaped the country's political landscape. He also held the presidency from 1999-2006 and was governor of the Bank of Italy for 14 years.
Premier Matteo Renzi paid tribute to Ciampi, recalling him as "a man of the institutions who served Italy with passion."
Pope Francis sent his condolences to Ciampi's widow, saying he had "covered his public responsibilities with masterly discretion and a strong sense of state." The financial daily il Sole 24 Ore called Ciampi a "president of national cohesion."
Ciampi never belonged to a political party, and in 1993 became the first premier not elected to parliament. He was tapped to shepherd the nation, rocked by corruption scandals and wincing from economic austerity measures, because he was considered above politics. As premier, Ciampi enforced a policy of tight state spending and deficit cuts after years of free-wheeling government spending. He resigned after 13 months, considering the country on its way to recovery.
He was a firm believer in the euro currency, and ensured, as treasury minister in 1997, that Italy passed the test to be among the founding eurozone members by reducing the deficit from 6.4 percent to 2.7 percent. He said he wanted Italy to be part of the euro's launch so that that the new currency didn't only represent central Europe, noting that "the Mediterranean component, the real cradle of European civilization, would have been marginalized."
Ciampi was born in 1920 to a bourgeois family in the Tuscan port city of Leghorn. 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.
In 1973, he became secretary-general of the bank of Italy 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 his election as president, Corriere della Sera 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, Franca, whom he met at university and who was frequently seen by his side, and two children.