(b. 9 Aug. 1939).
President of Italy, 1996–8, 2006– Born in Scandiano, he studied law and became a professor of economics at Bologna university, making his name as one of the founders of the Italian school of industrial economics. He served as minister for industry (1978–9), and in 1982–9 he acted as chairman of the state‐owned Institute of Industrial Reconstruction. As an economic expert without party allegiance he was asked to lead the Olive Tree Union into the 1996 elections, which he won. However, he struggled to keep the disparate coalition together, and ultimately lost the support of the left‐wing over his economic reforms, so that he had to resign.
Following the resignation of the Santer Commission, Prodi was called to become president of the European Commission (1999–2004). More a broker than a visionary, he failed to give the Commission a distinctive profile. Indeed, he presided over a divided Commission which failed to impact positively on the European Constitutional Convention. Although a committed European, Prodi began to prepare to return to Italian politics in the last year of his office.
At the head of the centre‐left Union led by the Olive Tree, Prodi succeeded in forming a broad coalition against Berlusconi, which narrowly won the 2006 elections. Confounding predictions that he would find it impossible to keep the coalition together, he benefited from his coalition partners' reluctance to allow Berlusconi a return to power. Prodi was thus able to balance a diversity of interests, while in foreign policy he steered Italy towards a close engagement with the EU and the UN.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).