Italy set to appoint veteran economist Barbieri as new Treasury head

Rome: Italy’s government is set to appoint veteran economist Riccardo Barbieri as director general of the Treasury, replacing Alessandro Rivera in the influential position, the economy ministry said on Thursday.

The move marks a victory for newly installed Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who was looking to remove Rivera and put her stamp on key positions.

Barbieri, 64, is currently the Treasury’s chief economist. Previously he has worked for major investment banks, including J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch.

“A cosmopolitan former banker and chief economist, Barbieri is one of the Treasury senior officials who liaises more frequently with Brussels,” said Francesco Galietti, head of political risk consultancy Policy Sonar.

“He is well known by capital markets and eurocrats,” Galietti added, saying his promotion was a “safe” choice.

Among other nominees, the ministry proposed that Biagio Mazzotta be confirmed as state auditor. The cabinet was due to meet at 6.30 p.m. (1730 GMT) on Thursday to ratify the appointments.

The role of Treasury director general is especially powerful in Italy, where bureaucrats get a substantial say in economic policy making and oversight of state-controlled companies against the backdrop of regularly revolving governments.

Previous incumbents have included Mario Draghi, who later became governor of the European Central Bank and Italian prime minister, and former economy ministers Domenico Siniscalco and Vittorio Grilli.

The Treasury chief deputises for the economy minister at G7 and G20 meetings and his department manages a public debt of roughly 150% of national output, the second highest in the euro zone after Greece’s.

Government sources have previously said Meloni was unhappy with Rivera’s handling of some of Italy’s main financial dossiers, notably efforts to relaunch the country’s fifth largest bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) (BMPS.MI).

MPS is 64%-owned by the Treasury following a 2017 bailout that cost taxpayers 5.4 billion euros ($5.8 billion).

Meloni said last month that MPS had been “very badly handled” at the expense of Italian taxpayers in the past — a remark which some politicians took as an indirect criticism of the ousted Treasury chief.

Rivera has declined any comment on his future or track record in recent weeks.

The Treasury job is one of the most important choices facing any government, but a number of other senior roles will also be up for grabs in the coming weeks, including the boards of state-controlled energy groups ENI (ENI.MI) and Enel (ENEI.MI).

The boards of MPS, defence group Leonardo (LDOF.MI) and power grid Terna (TRN.MI) are also due for renewal shortly, while a new Bank of Italy governor will have to be found when Ignazio Visco finishes his term at the end of October.

Rivera spent much of his career within the economy ministry, specialised in the handling of banking and financial crises. He was appointed to the director general role in 2018 under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and was reconfirmed in the job by Draghi, who took charge of the government in 2021.