September 25, 2019 / 6:39 PM / 9 months ago

Italy's Panetta seen bringing rigour and art to ECB board

ROME (Reuters) - Fabio Panetta will bring both creativity and rigorous data analysis skills to the European Central Bank’s executive committee when he joins the six-member board in January, according to people who know the Bank of Italy deputy governor.

Panetta, a veteran of more than three decades at Italy’s central bank, was the only candidate proposed to replace Benoit Coeure when nominations closed on Wednesday, the head of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers Mario Centeno said.

Each of the euro zone’s three biggest economies - Germany, France and Italy - have traditionally had one representative on the board, and the Italian seat falls vacant on Oct. 31 when ECB President Mario Draghi steps down, to be replaced by Christine Lagarde of France.

People familiar with Panetta said the 60-year-old economist sees his role as data-driven, but also as an art, often citing the 1932 work “The Art of Central Banking” by R.G. Hawtrey, which looked at mistakes that contributed to the Great Depression.

At the Bank of Italy, which he joined in 1985, Panetta was tasked by his then-boss Draghi with coordinating work relating to the Eurosystem of euro zone central banks and financial stability.

After Draghi moved to Frankfurt as ECB chief in 2011, Panetta often deputized for the new Italian governor, Ignazio Visco, at the ECB’s governing council.

During the 2008/09 financial crisis, which threatened the survival of the European single currency, Panetta helped engineer some of the ECB’s non-conventional tools, such as a long-term liquidity facility to banks known as LTRO (Long Term Refinancing Operation).

In 2016, he wrote: “The most important lesson we can take from the last eight years: when it comes to monetary policy, ‘never say never’”, before going on to cite the remark, attributed to Pablo Picasso, that you should: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Panetta sat on the ECB’s Single Supervisory Board from 2014 until last May, a period during which several national lenders were struggling with the consequences of the worst recession since World War Two and stricter European Union rules on state aid and banking rescues.

In that role, Panetta publicly voiced his doubts about the new bail-in mechanism for resolving a banking crisis, which aims to ensure shareholders and creditors share the costs of rescuing stricken lenders. At a parliamentary hearing, Panetta described the new EU rule as “a rabid reaction to the global financial crisis”, and said at a conference on credit that it “risks undermining confidence in the banking sector and is a source of instability”.

The Bank of Italy director general, whom colleagues describe as a hard worker and tenacious negotiator, can count on support from across Italy’s political divide.

Last July, both the euro-sceptic far-right MP Claudio Borghi and the euro-enthusiast new economy minister, Roberto Gualtieri, welcomed Panetta as Italy’s candidate for the ECB board seat.

“Panetta would be a very authoritative name for the ECB board, he is a person of great competence and recognized commitment to Europe,” said Gualtieri, who at the time was president of the economic commission at the European Parliament.

Reporting by Stefano Bernabei; Editing by Alex Richardson

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