Prodi, Romano (b. 1939)

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PRODI, ROMANO (b. 1939)


Economist, industrial manager, politician, prime minister of Italy.

After Romano Prodi completed his law degree in Italy and some specialized postgraduate studies at the London School of Economics, he became a professor of economics and industrial politics with appointments to Trento (1973), Harvard (1974), the universities of Bologna (1975), and again Bologna (1989). He was cofounder of Prometeia, a center for economic research; chairman of Il Mulino publishing company (1974–1978); and between 1978 and 1979 minister of industry in the fourth government of Giulio Andreotti. He also chaired the scientific committee of Nomisma, a society for economic studies that he founded in 1981.

Although his 1978 ministerial stint lasted only a few months, it permitted Prodi to link his name to procedures for appointing special commissioners and rescuing industrial groups in crisis, and it served as the springboard for his 1982 appointment as chair of the state-owned Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI, Institute for Industrial Reconstruction), which was founded in 1933 to reform and reorganize the Italian financial system after the 1929 crisis and was the largest industrial holding company in the country.

During his seven years as chair of IRI (1982–1989), Prodi succeeded in making the company profitable: it went from a loss of 3,056 billion lire (about 3 million dollars) at the time he assumed leadership to a profit of 1,263 billion lire (about 1.2 million dollars) in 1989. Both Prodi and Franco Reviglio, who was appointed to lead the Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (National Hydrocarbon Corporation), demonstrated their abilities and even a certain admirable independence from the political parties to which they owed their positions, the Christian Democrats (Prodi was close to its Catholic left wing) and the Socialist Party. Prodi initiated a rationalization process in IRI, which was a prelude to the massive privatization that began in the 1990s and met with resistance from political forces and from an administrative bureaucracy determined to defend its power.

Prodi privatized Alfasud, an Alfa Romeo car factory built in the south of Italy; however, the Craxi government blocked the sale of the Società Meridionale di Elettricità (Sme, Southern Electric Company, which had acquired some important food industries) to Carlo De Benedetti, then owner of Buitoni, a food product company.

Prodi completed his first term at IRI in 1989, when what has been called the era of the professors came to an end. After he left IRI he turned his attention to the university and to Nomisma, but he was not long absent from the public scene: in 1993 Carlo Azeglio Ciampi's government (28 April 1993–16 April 1994) asked him to replace the outgoing Franco Nobili as chair of IRI.

His tenure in office lasted only one year, during which he revived the privatization program: IRI ceded first the Credito Italiano (The Italian bank), then the Banca Commerciale (Commercial bank), and finally began the process of privatizing the agricultural and food sectors (Sme) and the iron and steel industries.

After the victory of the Freedom Pole and the Good Government Pole Coalitions in the April 1994 elections, Prodi submitted his resignation to the new prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, leaving the chairmanship of IRI to Michele Tedeschi. His political activity dates from that moment. Mentioned many times as a possible secretary of the Partito Popolare Italiano (PPI; People's Party) and as a candidate for prime minister, Prodi promoted the center-left electoral coalition Ulivo (Olive Tree Coalition); on 2 February 1995 he was chosen as its leader. Traveling by bus, he began a long electoral campaign that led to the victory of the center-left coalition and to his appointment as head of the government in April 1996.

Many parties participated in his center-left government, which took office on 17 May 1996: the Partito Democratico della Sinistra (Democratic Party of the Left); the PPI; the Verdi (Green Party Federation); the Unione Democratica (Democratic Union), founded by Antonio Maccanico; the Rinnovamento Italiano (Italian Renewal); and Lista Dini (Dini Ticket), in addition to three experienced politicians, among whom were Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Antonio Di Pietro. The Partito Rifondazione Comunista (PRC, Communist Refoundation Party) provided outside support for the government. Prodi remained as prime minister until 9 October 1998, when the leader of the PRC, Fausto Bertinotti, withdrew its support over the financial bill and budget estimate for the following year.

The following year, Prodi was appointed president of the European Commission, a post that reflected positively on Italy's image within the European Community. On 10 July 1999 he introduced his administration; among the European commissioners was Mario Monti, who was given the competition portfolio. As president of the European Commission, Prodi was the target of a series of criminal acts in Bologna in December 2003: two trash cans exploded near his residence; the shop window displaying his latest book in the Feltrinelli Bookstore was damaged; and a letter bomb concealed in a book sent to his home exploded when Prodi opened it, but he was not seriously injured.

His mandate to the European Commission expired on 31 October 2004, but Prodi remained in office for another two weeks when his Portuguese successor, José Manuel Durao Barroso, had difficulty getting his cabinet ministers ratified. Upon his return to Italy, Prodi was named leader of the Olive Tree Coalition for the 2006 elections and was elected prime minister in April 2006 by a narrow margin.

See alsoAndreotti, Giulio; Berlusconi, Silvio; European Commission; Italy.


Primary Sources

Prodi, Romano. Europe as I See It. Translated by Allan Cameron. Cambridge, U.K., 2000.

Secondary Sources

Di Raimondo, Antonio, ed. Prodi. Rome, 1995.

Grandi, Roberto. Prodi: una campagna lunga un anno. Milan, Italy, 1996.

Maria Teresa Giusti