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Italy politicians see central bank's Panetta as good ECB candidate

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian politicians from left and right said on Friday the Bank of Italy’s Deputy Governor Fabio Panetta was a strong candidate for the board of the European Central Bank early next year.

Italy backed the appointment of France’s Christine Lagarde - currently head of the International Monetary Fund - to replace Italian Mario Draghi as president of the ECB later this year as part of a plan to get a seat on the six-member executive board, an Italian government source has said.

“Certainly he (Panetta) is an authoritative figure,” Claudio Borghi, economics chief of the ruling right-wing League party, said when asked by Reuters if Panetta would be the Italian candidate.

Speaking on the sidelines of a banking event in Milan, Borghi said Panetta had “defended Italian savers while at the Bank of Italy, unlike others,” but he said it was still too soon to say who Rome would put forward for the Frankfurt-based post.

“It is premature. There are still knots to untangle,” he said.

The job at the ECB will not fall free until January, when the mandate of France’s Benoit Coeure expires.

It remains to be seen if Panetta will want the job, as he is also considered to be in pole position to replace Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco when his term expires in 2023.

At the Milan event Panetta also drew support from the opposition Democratic Party (PD), on the centre-left.

“Panetta would be a very authoritative name for the ECB board, he is a person of great competence and recognised commitment to Europe,” said the PD’s Roberto Gualtieri, who is president of the economic commission at the European Parliament.

Reporting by Elvira Pollina, writing by Gavin Jones and Giselda Vagnoni; editing by Andrew Heavens and Gareth Jones