Who is Roberto Gualtieri, the Brussels insider in charge of Italy’s precarious economy?

Italy's incoming finance minister Roberto Gualtieri is a talented economist with years of experience in Brussels who is known for playing the guitar – and defending Rome's interests.

Who is Roberto Gualtieri, the Brussels insider in charge of Italy's precarious economy?
Roberto Gualtieri has been named Italy's new finance minister. Photo: Herbert Neubauer/APA/AFP

His nomination demonstrates the new government's desire to turn the page on the thorny relations with the European Commission that typified the former populist administration, notably on spending.

READ ALSO: Here is Italy's new cabinet in full

Former history teacher Gualtieri, 53, will be well-positioned to negotiate next year's budget for the eurozone's third- largest economy with Brussels — the new government's most pressing, and challenging, task.

He has been the chair of the European Parliament's powerful economics committee since 2014, and was responsible for pushing through a raft of financial reforms intended to strengthen Europe's financial pipework in the wake of the crisis.

Brussels knowledge

A member of the European Parliament and of Italy's Democratic Party, Gualtieri is already a frequent presence at EU finance minister meetings and has had a front seat to developments in the eurozone, including the Greek debt crisis in 2015.

“He knows the European institutions well and how they work,” an EU source told AFP. “The Italians have been quite clear about pursuing their own reading of the EU's fiscal rules and he knows very well the limitations of that.

“It's an asset to have someone with that experience,” the source said.

Gualtieri with the President of European Central Bank, Mario Draghi. Photo: Vladimir Simicek/AFP

Earlier this year, Brussels formally put Italy on notice about its worsening deficit and snowballing debt but stopped short of penalising the country using the so-called excessive deficit procedure.

Gualtieri is pretty much the opposite of populist former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, who spent much of his time in office railing against Brussels before he sparked the crisis that ended his role in government.

'Good news for Italy and Europe'

“He's gifted, with a great intellectual ability and a vast memory,” French former socialist MEP Pervenche Beres said of Gaultieri.

Gualtieri is also known for playing the guitar, including performing solos at European Parliament events, notably after tough negotiations.

“He's very Italian, in the sense that during negotiations he always strongly defends Italian interests,” Beres told AFP.

Future European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde said on Wednesday that Gualtieri's nomination was “good news for Italy and for Europe,” Italian media reported.

READ ALSO: Four key economic challenges facing Italy's new government

“He seems quite a calm guy, reasonable, never heard him raise his voice. He's also quite self-confident,” the EU source said.

Gualtieri is reportedly “not a fan” of the European Commission's Stability and Growth Pact, under which EU members must consistently reduce their deficits and target a balanced budget in the long term. The pact was the main problem between Brussels and the previous government in heavily indebted Italy.

Gualtieri “wants to change the rules,” Beres said.

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Fuel tax cut and help with energy bills: Italy approves inflation aid package

Italy on Thursday night approved new measures worth around 17 billion euros ($17.4 billion) to help families and businesses manage the surging cost of fuel and essentials.

Fuel tax cut and help with energy bills: Italy approves inflation aid package

As expected, the final version of the ‘aiuti-bis‘ decree provides another extension to the existing 30-cents-per-litre cut to fuel duty, more help with energy bills, and a tax cut for workers earning under 35,000 euros a year.

The package also includes further funding for mental health treatment: there’s another 15 million euros for the recently-introduced ‘psychologist bonus’ on top of the 10 million previously allocated.

READ ALSO: What is Italy doing to cut the rising cost of living?

There are also measures to help agricultural firms deal with this year’s severe drought.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi described the new package as an intervention “of incredible proportions”, which corresponds to “a little over 2 points of national GDP”.

However, he said, no changes were made to the national budget to pave the way for the new measures.

The measures will be funded with 14.3 billion euros in higher-than-expected tax revenues this year, and the deployment of funds that have not yet been spent, Economy and Finance Minister Daniele Franco said.

Italy has already budgeted some 35 billion euros since January to soften the impact of rising fuel costs.

The decree is one of the last major acts by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi before an early general election next month.

Elections are set for September 25th but the former European Central Bank chief is staying on in a caretaker role until a new government is formed.

Draghi said the Italian economy was performing better than expected, citing the International Monetary Fund’s estimate of three percent for 2022.

“They say that in 2022, we will grow more than Germany, than France, than the average of the eurozone, more than the United States,” he told a press conference.

But he noted the many problems facing Italy, “from the high cost of living, to inflation, the rise in energy prices and other materials, to supply difficulties, widespread insecurity and, of course political insecurity”.

Inflation hit 8 percent in Italy in June – the most severe spike the country has experienced since 1976.