Italian economist Tommaso Padoa Schioppa, 70, one of the intellectual architects of the euro and a member of the European Central Bank's first executive board, has died.

Mr. Padoa Schioppa, economy minister under Premier Romano Prodi, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack during a dinner with friends, according to one of those present, his onetime deputy Vincenzo Visco.

The death stunned Italy's political and business elite, who remembered the economist as a passionate promoter of the European project and its single currency.

"He was among those who knew how to translate the European ideal into concrete and learned analyses and projects, giving in particular a lasting contribution to the birth of the euro and the eurozone," Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said.

During his seven-year term at the ECB, Mr. Padoa Schioppa was one of the six members charged with guiding the euro through its first vital years after being introduced in 11 member nations on Jan. 1, 1999.

More recently, the Greek government tapped him to help deal with the country's debt crisis, and Fiat Industrial named him to its board earlier this month.

Mr. Padoa Schioppa first gained international recognition as the director-general for economic and financial affairs at the European Commission 1979-1983.

In 1993 he became deputy director-general of Banca d'Italia. He surprised many in 1997 when he moved to Consob, Italy's stock market watchdog. As chairman he fought to introduce reforms in the Italian stock market, particularly those to clamp down on insider trading.

But it was his role in shepherding in the euro that made his mark. He was the executive board director with special responsibility for international relations, payment systems and banking supervision. He traveled widely, lecturing in important financial centers from New York to Tokyo and Beijing advocating the importance and potential of the euro.

He repeatedly argued that "a strong currency requires a strong economy and a strong polity, not only a competent central bank." - AP