ROME (Reuters) - The soft-spoken son of an aristocratic family, Paolo Gentiloni is set to become Italy’s fifth prime minister in as many years, promoted thanks to his unwavering loyalty to outgoing premier Matteo Renzi.
Two years into the foreign minister’s job, Gentiloni was asked by President Sergio Mattarella on Sunday to form a new government tasked with tackling much-need electoral reform and a seemingly unending crisis in the banking sector.
He will need to win confidence votes in parliament, expected this week, to take office and even after overcoming that hurdle, he might only survive a few months, with many political chiefs demanding elections as soon as a new electoral law is approved.
Nonetheless his rise to power is remarkable for an unassuming centre-left politician who has made more friends than enemies in his long career and is viewed as a safe pair of hands rather than an inspiring leader.
He has Renzi to thank for his ascent.
In Oct. 2014, with virtually no international experience, he was unexpectedly handed the foreign affairs portfolio by Renzi, whom he had supported in a 2012 battle to grab the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Fast forward two years, and Renzi has once again pushed Gentiloni forward after resigning from the premiership following a clear defeat in a Dec. 4 referendum on constitutional reform.
As leader of the largest party in parliament, Renzi had a decisive say in who should replace him, and will have to keep the new administration alive. Critics say he chose the low-key Gentiloni to keep control from behind the scenes.
“A cast-iron Renzi supporter with little charisma ... and above all expendable,” Alessandro Di Battista, a leading light in the main opposition party, the 5-Star Movement, wrote on Facebook in reference to Gentiloni.
“He could be prime minister for a few months without endangering Renzi, who could prepare himself for a comeback.”
Paolo Gentiloni Silveri was born in November 1954 to a noble, Roman Catholic family. As a high-school student drawn to radical leftist politics, he dropped his double-barrelled surname.
He is quoted as having told Italy’s Magazine publication that his youthful transformation was: “From one of the boys who played volleyball to one of the men who smoked everything”.
After graduating in political science, Gentiloni turned to journalism, leading an environmental magazine for eight years before moving into mainstream politics and organising Francesco Rutelli’s successful campaign to be Rome mayor in 1993.
In 2001 he was elected to parliament with the centre-left Margherita (Daisy) party, which was later folded into the broader Democratic Party.
In 2006 he was appointed communications minister, but his two main reform efforts - to shake up state broadcaster RAI and reform the television market - never made it into law.
His political career appeared to wane when he stood in primaries to become the centre-left candidate for Rome mayor in 2012, only to finish a distant third. But Renzi’s unexpected call in 2014 propelled him back into the cabinet.
Diplomats say that as foreign minister, Gentiloni has dealt competently with a number of difficult events, such as the killing of student Giulio Regeni in Egypt, the chaos in neighbouring Libya and the ongoing migration crisis.
A pro-European, he has called on willing EU states to work together on creating a joint permanent military force.
Gentiloni also offered an olive branch to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, after the Italian government had openly sided with his rival Hillary Clinton in the campaign, saying he hoped for better U.S.-Russian relations in future.
Additional reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Andrew Heavens