By Giselda Vagnoni
ROME (Reuters) – Piero Cipollone, Italy’s choice for the European Central Bank’s executive board, has a reputation for discreetly helping Rome’s eurosceptic government rub along with EU institutions and brings skills in economics, particularly in digital money, tempered with pragmatism, people who have worked with him say.
Cipollone, a three-decade veteran of the Bank of Italy, was the only candidate proposed to replace Fabio Panetta when nominations closed on Wednesday, the head of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers Paschal Donohoe said.
Each of the euro zone’s three biggest economies – Germany, France and Italy – have traditionally had one representative on the six-member panel, and the Italian seat will fall vacant on Oct. 31 when Panetta moves to head the Italian central bank.
Cipollone, 61, has been part of the Panetta-led task-force studying the creation of a digital euro, a project on which the ECB is expected to decide in October whether to push ahead.
People familiar with him say the deputy governor of the Bank of Italy is a moderate and following in the footsteps of former ECB president Mario Draghi, often called the “saviour of the euro”, Cipollone is attentive to the real-world impact of policy as well as economic theory.
“Piero is from the same brood as Draghi and would bring to the ECB analytical and objective reasoning, devoid of ideological biases,” former general director of the Bank of Italy Salvatore Rossi told Reuters.
Like Draghi in the late 1980s, Cipollone spent four years at the World Bank where he supervised Italy, Albania, Greece, Malta, Portugal, San Marino, and Timor-Leste between 2010 and 2014.
According to Rossi, their experiences in Washington gave both Draghi and Cipollone “a pragmatic approach that has deepened their understanding of the impact of economic decisions on families and businesses in different countries”.
Born in 1962 in Cese di Avezzano, a village in the central region of Abruzzo, Cipollone obtained a master’s degree in economics from Stanford University after graduating from “La Sapienza” University of Rome.
In 1993 he joined the prestigious economic research department of the Bank of Italy, where he remained for 15 years before moving to Washington.
“A CERTAIN MR. CIPOLLONE”
Back in Italy, Cipollone was relatively unknown until 2018 when the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement formed a government with the eurosceptic League party, spooking investors with the idea the Italy could exit the euro.
He came to the fore when then-prime minister Giuseppe Conte, a lawyer with no previous political experience, asked Cipollone to advise him on economic matters.
“From the first time Conte spoke before parliament, I realized that he was not adhering to our programme,” anti-euro League senator Claudio Borghi, who participated in the drafting of the coalition’s political platform, told Reuters.
“After phone calls with coalition partners, it came out that his speeches were reviewed by a certain Mr. Cipollone,” he said, adding that he realised it would as a result be difficult to pursue an aggressively anti-EU stance.
Conte is now 5-Star’s leader. His press office declined to comment on Cipollone’s time as his economic adviser.
After the sudden collapse of Conte’s “yellow-green” government, Cipollone was promoted by Bank of Italy governor Ignazio Visco as one of his deputies in 2020.
Since then, he has specialised in digital currencies, supporting the idea that central banks need to prepare for a future when cash is out of favour and the private sector competes with central banks for the control of money.
In a rare public speech in Milan in 2021 Cipollone said that to prevent depositors fleeing to the safety of their digital euro accounts if their bank or country ran into trouble, the digital euro “should be defined in such a way that it is used mainly as a means of payment and not as an investment or a store of value”.
(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Mark John, Catherine Evans and David Evans)