(Updates after appointment confirmed)
ROME, May 27 (Reuters) - The Italian government on Thursday named Dario Scannapieco, a former adviser to Prime Minister Mario Draghi, as the new head of the powerful state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP).
His appointment may indicate a change of direction for industrial strategy under Draghi, with less direct state intervention in Italy’s business world, analysts said.
Scannapieco, a 53-year-old economist currently serving as European Investment Bank (EIB) vice president, was hired by Draghi, then chief of the Treasury, in 1997 among a group of experts who came to be known as the ‘Draghi boys’.
Under his predecessor Fabrizio Palermo, the CDP was tasked with wresting back state control of Italy’s main motorway operator Autostrade per l’Italia, a project dear to the co-ruling 5-Star Movement.
It also fostered Rome’s attempt to create a single national broadband operator by merging Telecom Italia’s landline assets with those of Open Fiber.
At the Treasury Scannapieco, seen as a technocratic pragmatist in the same mould as Draghi, tried innovative but contested solutions to fix Italy’s public finances, using securitisations to cut the chronic deficit of the state pensions and welfare agencies.
“Scannapieco’s experience at the European Investment Bank means he is well suited to the CDP job,” said Massimo D’Antoni, economics professor at Siena University.
“Draghi is steadily putting people he trusts in strategic positions and marginalising the role of the parties in his coalition. For now, he is getting control of tools of the government machine rather than championing specific policies.”
Palermo was close to 5-Star, which is the largest party in parliament but has been hit by internal feuding and has seen its influence diminish under Draghi, who took office in February.
Draghi has given no indication he wants to pull back from the motorway project, which now seems close to finalisation, but some of his ministers have expressed doubts about the single broadband plan, which they say risks raising antitrust problems.
“If they had wanted to do the single network they’d have left Palermo there. It was already clear the project was dead in the water with Draghi. This appointment has confirmed it,” said a manager at a telecoms group who asked not to be named.
The nomination is part of a wider reshuffle of key positions in state companies driven by Draghi as the country prepares to spend 220 billion euros ($268.47 billion) of EU funds.
On Wednesday state-owned railway operator Ferrovie dello Stato said it had appointed Luigi Ferraris chief executive officer.
CDP holds stakes in Telecom Italia and Open Fiber and is set to play a decisive role in enhancing the country’s digital infrastructure as Italy plans to spend more than 8 billion euros of EU money on broadband, 5G and satellite technologies.
Under Palermo the 170-year-old state-backed investor, which also has controlling stakes in key energy companies, was active in keeping strategic assets in national hands and mitigating the economic ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It invests savings made by Italians through the national post office network Poste Italiane while its debt is not booked as part of Italy’s mammoth public debt-pile. ($1 = 0.8195 euros) (Additional reporting by Gavin Jones and Stephen Jewkes, writing by Gavin Jones and Maria Pia Quaglia, Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Kirsten Donovan)