What was Mario Draghi supposed to become, if not a central banker? When he was born in 1947, his father was busy in Rome, trying to organize the printing of post-war Italian money. Now the son is in charge in the same building -- the Palazzo Koch on the Via Nazionale -- as governor of the Banca d'Italia.

The reputation of Italy's central bank has historically been somewhat dubious. Speculative bubbles, bursts of inflation, and currency crises all have had their origins in the Palazzo Koch, and many of the bank chiefs -- named to life-long positions, like popes -- have meddled in both national politics and engaged in back-room deals. They're not held in the highest esteem.

So will the new "Mr. Euro" be recruited from this shady institution? Quite possibly. Draghi's is the name most frequently heard among candidates to succeed Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the European Central Bank -- after Axel Weber, the head of the German Central Bank, annouced that he had decided to quit this April and also turned down the European job.

'This Italian'

The question is: Should he be responsible for the stability of the continent's currency? Should the future head of the ECB, a conservative institution modelled on Germany's inflation-battling Bundesbank, come from a nation with a distinct culture of inflation and the second-highest level of sovereign debt in the euro zone?

Leading German politicians have rejected the idea in private. They see no way of explaining it to German voters. Meanwhile the mass-circulation Bild blares: "No Way" will "This Italian" become president of the ECB, which "Oversees the Legacy of the Good, Stable German Mark."

But Chancellor Angela Merkel rarely lets Bild get in her way, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has lobbied for the Italian. So the decision seems all but settled. EU leaders will make a final decision at a summit in June, and it's hard to imagine them voting against the will of their two most powerful members.

Even if the EU leaders were to reject simply accepting Merkel and Sarkozy's choice and instead look for the best-qualified candidate for the job, the Italian would still find himself near the top of any shortlist.

'The Best Europe Has to Offer'

Prominent economists around the world, including the American Nouriel Roubini, believe in Draghi. Finance Ministers like Luc Frieden, from Luxembourg, describe him as "impressive and intelligent." Former German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück says that Draghi "is always very independent, very quiet and technically excellent" at international financial summits like the G-8 or the G-20. In the banking headquarters in the City of London -- where he served for a few years as European head of the American investment bank Goldman Sachs -- he's known as "Super Mario."

"The entire international financial establishment supports Draghi," says a Brussels insider quoted in the Financial Times Deutschland. He's supposedly "the best man Europe has to offer."

Draghi is very different from Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. He's quiet and polite. He's friendly but shy of the public. He doesn't go to glamorous parties. He embodies a national alternative to Berlusconi, who embarrasses many Italians.

Draghi studied first in Rome before earning a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After serving at the World Bank in Washington, in 1990 he returned home to serve as the top official in Italy's Finance Ministry, where he privatized ailing public enterprises and set out to reform the highly-indebted state budget, which was a prerequisite for Italy's accession to the euro zone in 1999.

Draghi left government when Berlusconi took office in 2001 and took the job at Goldman Sachs. French President Sarkozy considers this move a black mark on Draghi's resume. For former German Finance minister Peer Steinbrück it seems "more of an advantage than a disadvantage" for a continental banker "to understand the Anglo-American world." When the Banca d'Italia threatened to sink near the end of 2005, the Berlusconi government called him home.

'We Should All Follow the German Example'

His opinions on the European crisis are not Mediterranean so much as Prussian. In a currency union it is "unacceptable that individual states should use the others," he said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The euro zone therefore needs quasi-automatic rules to force member nations onto a frugal and stable financial course.

He wants more rules for the euro zone to encourage its members to follow growth-friendly reforms. He finds it unconscionable for citizens in one country to retire at 57 while citizens in another work until 67. That leads, he says, to imbalances in competition, which is expensive for everyone. Germany has raised its retirement age to 67 and improved its competitive power. "We should all follow the German example," says Draghi.

His only failing for the job of ECB president, it seems, is the wrong passport. So it's still possible that "this Italian" will be passed over in June, at the EU summit. There was some speculation that the next president could be the Finn, Erkki Liikanen, or the Luxembourger, Yves Mersch. They both come from orderly nations.

But Finland, meanwhile, has removed Liikanen from the running, and Mersch's chances are seen as distant because another Luxembourger, Jean-Claude Juncker, will probably remain as president of the Euro Group, the euro zone's policy coordination forum -- and having two citizens of the same small country in top EU positions is seen as unlikely.

In other words: Draghi's chances are not bad at all.