By Richard Carter (China Daily): ATHENS, Greece - Lucas Papademos, sworn in on Friday to lead an emergency government, is regarded by many as the safe pair of hands needed to steer Greece through its crippling debt crisis, and even its last hope.
As vice-president of the European Central Bank (ECB) until 2010, he was considered by many analysts as the driving force behind the institution, winning high international regard for his financial expertise.
The 64-year-old bespectacled economist, seen as a skilled backroom operator, prefers to shun the limelight, but his global contacts and inside knowledge of European monetary policy will be vital in saving his country from bankruptcy.
While he spent several years sitting at press conferences beside then ECB chief Jean-Claude Trichet, he almost never intervened, preferring to defer questions to his boss.
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.
He is a passionate European, having masterminded Greece's transition from the drachma to the euro, and his academic publications have also focused heavily on the economic theory behind the currency union.
"I am convinced that the participation in the euro is a guarantee of monetary stability and a factor of economic stability," he told reporters on Thursday moments after President Carolos Papoulias gave him a mandate to form a new government.
"The Greek economy is facing huge problems despite the enormous efforts made ... Greece is at a crucial crossroads," he said, adding: "The course will not be easy."
In a recent 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 ($477.78 billion), as part of the agreement Papademos would be asked to oversee.
Persuading him to take over the leadership of government took four long days as he reportedly produced a long list of demands, including extending the election date beyond February and including conservatives in the Cabinet.
This caused huge delays to his appointment and at times he even looked to be completely out of the running several times, with politicians turning to others.
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 previous 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 Harvard University.
There was 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.
He now faces a mountainous to-do list.
His first job will be to persuade the EU and International Monetary Fund to disburse an 8-billion-euro slice of aid from a 2010 bailout deal that is desperately needed by Dec 15 before the coffers run dry.
Then he must force through painful austerity measures exacted as the price for a second EU bailout package which gives Athens 100 billion euros in loans, the same amount in debt reduction and a further 30 billion in guarantees.
But he should at least not be out of touch with the chaos that awaits him - the course he was teaching at Harvard is entitled "The Global Financial Crisis: Policy Responses and Challenges".