The Most Important Man in Europe

Prime Minister Mario Monti is trying to pull Italy and its neighbors back from the economic brink

Paolo Pellegrin / Magnum for TIME

At first glance, it seems impossible that the fate of the world economy rests in Mario Monti's hands. The Prime Minister of Italy has the aura of a gentlemanly grandfather--the polite demeanor, the soft voice, the smiling eyes--not the tough taskmaster Italy so desperately needs to escape its dangerous and protracted debt crisis. Monti, 68, speaks in the long, precise, jargon-laden sentences of an academic economist, which he was only four months ago. He does not employ the rousing rhetoric of a typical politician. He seems like the sort who'd get chewed up by Italy's political machine, not reform it.

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