'Action needed to avoid future risk'

Italy staked its claim on Tuesday to the European Central Bank presidency after Jean-Claude Trichet's mandate expires in October 2011, setting the stage for a fight with EU powerhouse Germany.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on local television Italy would be "honoured" if Bank of Italy Governor Mario Draghi were named ECB head, reviving debate over who will succeed France's Trichet.

Draghi's prominent role during the global crisis as chairman of the Financial Stability Board means he is often mentioned as a potential replacement for Trichet, but he faces a likely challenge from German ECB Governing Council member Axel Weber.

"Weber is a strong candidate but the rotation of the presidency could and should mean it's Italy's turn," Frattini told Reuters.

"No-one has put a candidacy forward, there has been no talk of a post-Trichet, but it is clear that respected international commentators like the Wall Street Journal are talking about Draghi and of course Italy would look well on that," he said.

Germany's Bundesbank declined to comment on Frattini's support for Draghi over Weber.

Draghi, who has held top positions at the World Bank, the Italian Treasury and investment bank Goldman Sachs, has seen his international standing rise further since he was appointed to the FSB in 2006.

The Bank of Italy said Draghi had no comment to make. In the past he has been quick to rule himself out of jobs he did not want. When his name was associated with the presidency of the European Investment Bank, the BOI issued a statement saying he was "not interested in the job".

Officials around the euro zone have told Reuters that Draghi is already emerging as the front runner to replace Trichet ahead of the Bundesbank's Weber, widely seen at this stage as his main rival for the job.

"Of the two, Draghi is the more likely," a senior European Union source said on Monday on condition he not be named.

Draghi is widely seen as a monetary policy pragmatist, with a less clear-cut profile than Weber, whose public comments have characterised the German as an inflation hawk.

A central bank official said Weber was penalised by the fact the ECB was based in Germany, meaning his appointment would make the Frankfurt-based bank appear overly dominated by the euro zone's largest economy.

"If Draghi wants the job he is extremely likely to get it," this official said.

A French government source was more cautious, saying France had a good relationship with Draghi but it was still early days.

"It's in two years time, a lot of things can change between now and then." The source added that it was "frankly a bit indecent to be discussing the issue when Trichet still has two years left in the job".

The head of Italy's banking association, Corrado Faissola, echoed the comments from Frattini, saying Draghi's appointment would be "a great honour for Italy".

Financial Mirror, September 29, 2009 - Reuters|||Italy's turn to hold ECB presidency, minister says
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