Prodi, Romano

(1939– )
   Romano Prodi was born in the province of Reggio Emilia (Emilia-Romagna) in August 1939. Like all but two of his eight brothers and sisters, he initially followed an academic career, becoming a professor of economics at the University of Bologna. In 1978, he became minister for industry in Giulio Andreotti’s short-lived fourth government. In 1982, Prodi was asked to take over the chairmanship of the Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale/Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI), the huge holding company that used to manage the Italian state’s widespread industrial interests. When Prodi took over IRI, the company was sinking under the burden of its debts. By rationalizing the company’s steel production in particular, Prodi was able to transform IRI into a profit-making concern by 1989, although his attempts to privatize substantial segments of IRI’s activities were blocked by his political opponents. Prodi’s career at IRI was linked to the continuance of Ciriaco De Mita as secretary of the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC). When De Mita was ousted in 1989, Prodi soon lost his post.
   Prodi—whom the Italian left had long regarded as the acceptable face of the DC—was spoken of as a potential premier during the government crises of April 1993 and January 1995. In February 1995, Prodi launched himself into politics, nominating himself as the candidate for the premiership of a broad coalition of centerleft parties, including the Partito Democratico della Sinistra/ Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) and Partito Popolare Italiano/ Italian Popular Party (PPI). Led by Prodi, the Olive Tree Coalition/Ulivo scored a narrow victory in the general elections held on 21 April 1996. In mid-May 1996 Prodi became prime minister at the head of a government that contained 10 PDS ministers but that relied on the votes of the Partito di Rifondazione Comunista/ Communist Refoundation Party (PRC) for a parliamentary majority. The main achievement of Prodi’s government was qualifying to enter the euro, although the finance minister, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, deserves much of the credit for this feat. Italy entered the euro system on schedule on 1 January 1999, despite the fact that its stock of public debt was greatly over the amount permitted by the 1992 Treaty on European Union (EU).
   Prodi’s reward was to be almost immediately overthrown by his parliamentary majority. The PRC, angry about the social costs of the austerity policies introduced by Prodi and Ciampi, brought his government down in October 1998. Prodi fell on his feet, however. He became president of the European Commission in 1999 and stayed in the job until 2004, overseeing the introduction of the euro in note form in 2002 and, even more important, the enlargement of the EU by 10 central European and Mediterranean countries in May 2004. Prodi returned to Italian politics after his spell in Brussels and was drafted by the squabbling parties of the center-left to lead them against Silvio Berlusconi in the April 2006 elections. Prodi established his authority by winning a U.S.-style primary for the leadership of his new coalition, the Unione/Union, in October 2005. In April 2006, he led the Union to a knife-edge victory in the general elections and became premier for the second time.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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