Skilled but low-key Papademos favorite to become PM

Lucas Papademos, who has emerged as a frontrunner to lead an emergency government in Greece, is regarded by many as the safe pair of hands needed to steer the country through its crippling debt crisis.

As vice-president of the European Central Bank until 2010, he was considered by many analysts as the driving force behind the institution and he earned high international regard for his financial expertise.

But the 64-year-old bespectacled economist, seen as a skilled backroom operator, preferred to shun the limelight.

While he spent several years sitting at press conferences beside former ECB chief Jean-Claude Trichet, he almost never intervened, preferring to defer questions to his boss.

And it is this quiet, technocratic profile that many view as the perfect attribute to end months of political squabbling and lead Greece to new elections to try to keep a vital EU debt bailout afloat.

The respected Kathimerini newspaper seemed to be holding out the hope that Papademos could be the man to pull Greece back from the brink.

“If Papademos doesn’t accept this role, we really don’t know who else could do it,» it wrote.

He is certainly a passionate European, having masterminded Greece’s transition from the drachma to the euro, and his academic publications have also focused heavily on the theory behind the currency union.

But in his last-known on-the-record comments, an opinion article in Greek daily To Vima, he warned that forcing banks to accept heavy losses on their holdings of Greece’s debt would entail «important dangers.”

“The potential economic benefits of a debt restructuring will be much smaller than what is frequently forecast, and the procedure entails important dangers for Greece and the eurozone,» he said.

In the end, banks accepted to write off half of their Greek debt holdings, wiping nearly one-third off Greece’s debt pile of around 350 billion euros, as part of the agreement Papademos would be asked to oversee.

In addition to his international standing, he is also well-respected in Greece, as a former governor of the central bank, a professor at Athens University and, more recently, an economic advisor to outgoing Prime Minister George Papandreou.

Like Papandreou, he was educated in part in the United States, taking a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering and a PhD in philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

And after leaving the ECB, he again crossed the Atlantic, accepting a professorship at the world-famous Harvard University.

There is some doubt, however, whether he would return to Athens to accept the job as prime minister if offered the post.

In June, he turned down Papandreou’s offer to serve as finance minister.

But he should at least not be out of touch with the chaos that would confront him — the course he is teaching at Harvard is entitled «The Global Financial Crisis: Policy Responses and Challenges.”