President of Italy
Born December 9, 1920, in Livorno, Italy; married; children: one son, one daughter. Education: Earned diploma from the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa; received B.A. and LLB. degrees from the University of Pisa.
Office —c/o Embassy of Italy, 3000 Whitehaven St. NW, Washington, DC 20008.
Began at Banca d'Italia (Bank of Italy), 1946; rose through administrative ranks and served as branch inspector, 1950s; became economist in its research department, 1960; named head of research department, 1970, secretary general after 1973, deputy director general after 1976, director general after 1977, and governor, 1979–1993; appointed prime minister of Italy, 1993; Bank of International Settlements, vice president, 1994–96; appointed Italy's Treasury Minister, 1996—; elected president of Italy, 1999.
Italy's octogenarian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi is one of the most respected figures in his country. A sober banker who headed Italy's central bank for a number of years, he was elected president by the Italian parliament in 1999 for a seven–year term. He has proved a surprisingly formidable foil for the country's controversial prime minister, media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi. Ciampi is also a staunch supporter of the European Union (EU),
Ciampi was born in 1920 and attended Pisa's Scuola Normale Superiore and its university as well. Though he eventually earned a law degree, early in his academic career he studied German language and literature, and even spent time in that country in 1938 just before the Nazi German government began invading neighboring countries, which sparked a world war. His fellow students came from across Europe and North America, and as Ciampi recalled in an interview that appeared in the Economist, "we used to hang out on the banks of the Rhine—and would talk about ending up as enemies as if it were a joke. And then it happened."
During the war, Ciampi served in the Italian Army for three years. In 1946, he joined the Banca d'Italia, or national bank of Italy, and rose through its ranks as an economist and branch inspector. He was named head of its research department in 1970, and went on to hold three senior posts before he become its governor in 1979. Over the next 14 years, he earned a reputation as a sound financial manager as well as a figure impervious to the taint of corruption that had become endemic among Italy's business and political elite. Ciampi was also instrumental in guiding Italy's entry into the European Monetary Union, the plan to link the currencies of the EU member nations in order to lessen inflation and prevent fluctuations in foreign–exchange rates. After urging Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti to accept the terms of the Maastricht Treaty of European Union in the early 1990s, il governatore, as he was known, began to enact measures at the Banca d'Italia that would help Italy meet the necessary requirements to join a single European currency by the target date of 1999. Ciampi's sterling reputation made him a dark–horse favorite to become the country's next prime minister in an unexpected turn of events in the early 1990s. A series of corruption scandals rocked Italy, and decimated an entire generation of postwar business tycoons and elected officials. One after another, governments dissolved in discord as a result, and finally the president, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, appointed Ciampi as prime minister in April of 1993. The power to appoint a prime minister is one of few powers the Italian president enjoys, and Ciampi's accession helped to soothe frayed nerves. "Ciampi appears to be light–years away from career Italian politicians," wrote Europe journalist Niccolo d'Aquino. "He is polite yet solitary, steely as far as work is concerned, and his dark blue suits cut an elegant figure in a gentlemanly, if old–fashioned, way."
Ciampi had a reform plan to help stabilize the government, but the lingering wake of the scandals caused dissension within his cabinet, and he was replaced by Berlusconi in the 1994 national elections. For a time, he left government service altogether, taking a vice presidency at the Bank of International Settlements, but in 1996 a new prime minister and ardent pro–European Union figure, Romano Prodi, appointed Ciampi to serve as Italy's Treasury Minister. European Monetary Union deadlines were coming, and there were several requirements Italy had to meet before the introduction of the Euro, or single EU currency, in 1999. Even Prodi's replacement, Massimo D'Alema, kept Ciampi on as Treasury minister when yet another new government came to power in 1998.
Ciampi stood for the presidency in the spring of 1999, and won election by two–thirds of the parliament vote. At the time, Italy had endured 56 different governments since the end of World War II, and though the presidency had little actual power, it was viewed as an office of inestimable respect and influence. Financial Times writer James Blitz described Ciampi's new role as "the ultimate arbiter of the Italian political 'game', with the right to pronounce in public when he thinks politicians are over–stepping the mark."
Ciampi did not disappoint. He took on Berlusconi, who returned as prime minister in 2001, and his center–right party often, most notably in a 2003 fracas over media–ownership laws. Berlusconi's array of companies control a majority of Italy's radio and television networks, and in December of that year Ciampi refused to sign a new media bill that would have given Berlusconi's empire increased power and possibly even greater advertising revenues. The bill had made it through parliament despite intense debate over a potential conflict of interest, and was derided by the EU's press–freedom watchdog group. Ciampi's veto forced it back to parliament for more debate, an act that was roundly applauded by many Italians, EU member nations, and the Economist, which described one of the Berlusconi–held television stations as "a channel whose evening news bulletins exude pro–government sycophancy." The article commended Ciampi's stance. "This brave and principled refusal is the best news Italy's constitution has had during the two–and–a–half years of Mr. Berlusconi's prime ministership," it asserted.
Ciampi also stepped into a debate over whether Italian schools should display the crucifix, as a 1924 law compels. The nation still retains a strongly Roman Catholic character, but its population of 58 million has tentatively welcomed many new immigrants from North Africa and southern European countries like Albania since the 1990s. A Muslim activist filed suit objecting to the crucifixes displayed in his son's school, and a judge ruled in October of 2003 that they should be removed. Ciampi sided with Roman Catholic church officials in support of the archaic law. "The crucifix has always been considered not only as a distinctive sign of a particular religious credo," CNN.com quoted him as saying, "but above all as a symbol of the values that are at the base of our Italian identity."
Ciampi's term expires in 2006, the same year he will turn 86. He is married and has two children, and still reads German literature in his leisure time.
Economist, May 22, 1999, p. 60; December 20, 2003, p. 13.
Europe, July/August 1997.
Financial Times, May 14, 1999, p. 23; May 10, 2001, p. 10; April 20, 2002, p. 7; July 24, 2002, p. 8; December 18, 2003, p. 4.
Guardian (London, England), December 16, 2003, p. 11.
Independent (London, England), December 17, 2003, p. 12.
"Carlo Azeglio Ciampi," Biography Resource Center Online, Gale Group, 2002.
"Carlo Azeglio Ciampi," Embassy of Italy, http://www.italyemb.org/Ciampi.htm (February 24, 2004).
"Italy president in crucifix row," CNN.com , http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/europe/10/27/italy.president.crucafix.ap/ (October 27, 2003).
— Carol Brennan