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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 21:15 GMT
Profile: Romano Prodi
Romano Prodi in Nice
Mr Prodi has a tough EU reform agenda
Romano Prodi projects a modest, mild-mannered image as he grapples with the tough job of preparing the 15-nation European Union to admit up to 13 new members.

The European Parliament voted the former Italian prime minister into office as EU Commission president in September 1999, amid high hopes for far-reaching reforms. The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had strongly backed his candidacy.


Nice was characterised by the efforts of many to defend their immediate interests, to the detriment of a long-term vision

Romano Prodi
Pledging to rid the EU's executive body of its bureaucratic image, Mr Prodi took over from Jacques Santer, whose commissioners resigned en masse following allegations of sleaze and cronyism.

The gradual streamlining of the EU Commission - overseen by Mr Prodi's vice-president, Neil Kinnock - has been overshadowed by the wider issue of reshaping the entire EU ahead of enlargement.

And on that score, Mr Prodi's achievements have been mixed so far.

Disappointment

He admitted he was disappointed by the outcome of the EU's December summit in Nice, saying "little or no progress was made on tax regulation and social legislation".

Prodi (left) with Tony Blair in Italy
Mr Blair has reservations about Mr Prodi's vision for Europe

Mr Prodi criticised those who opposed the commission's drive to curb use of the national veto, as part of its efforts to streamline decision-making.

Embarking on his reform agenda in October 1999, Mr Prodi had outlined a vision of an economically integrated, democratic Europe stretching from Ireland to the Black Sea.

"For the first time since the Roman Empire we have the opportunity to unite Europe," he declared.

Consensus-builder

A free-market liberal, Mr Prodi, 61, was one of Italy's most successful post-war prime ministers.

A former Christian Democrat, he threw in his lot with the ex-Communists when they transformed themselves into the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS).

Between April 1996 and November 1998, he led the "Olive Tree" centre-left coalition, the first genuine left-wing administration in Italy since the fall of fascism.

Before entering politics he had had a long career as a professor of economics at Bologna University.

Sausage

Mr Prodi is sometimes called "The Professor" in Italy, or less flatteringly, "The Mortadella" - after the rather bland sausage which is a Bologna speciality.


It may be because the Italian state is so weak that Italian society is so much alive

Romano Prodi
As prime minister he got Italy accepted as a member of the European single currency - the euro - against all odds. He achieved it through a carefully-managed policy of financial and fiscal discipline.

In a speech to UK business leaders in November, he described the euro as a "baby" that was "growing up well". But until notes and coins were in people's hands it would remain an abstract concept for many people, he added.

Low-key

Mr Prodi is very much a man of the people and his favourite recreation is cycling. His low-key style of government by consensus and compromise won over millions of Italians.

The BBC's Rome correspondent, David Willey, says that even back in 1984 Mr Prodi identified the art of compromise as the most important political value in Italy.

"Tactics and cunning are what seize the imagination of Italians," Mr Prodi said. "The conduct of business here is frequently all tactics and no final goal. It may be because the Italian state is so weak that Italian society is so much alive and has such an ability to innovate."

Mr Prodi graduated in economics from Milan's Catholic University in 1961 and did postgraduate studies at the London School of Economics. He also spent a year as visiting professor at Harvard in 1974.

A devout Roman Catholic, he married his childhood sweetheart Flavia and has two grown-up sons.

His first taste of ministerial office was a six-month stint as industry minister in 1978-79.

He later served as chairman of the powerful state-owned industrial holding company, IRI. Twice he was investigated for alleged corruption at IRI, but both cases were dropped for lack of evidence against him.

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See also:

12 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Prodi attacks veto 'intransigence'
08 Apr 00 | Europe
Prodi's 'tempest in a teacup'
27 Jan 00 | Europe
Prodi unveils EU reforms
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