Dieter Rampl, chairman of UniCredit, has said he will not seek renewal of his mandate, opening up the prospect of a tussle for the chairmanship of Italy’s biggest bank by assets.

Mr Rampl, who became chairman of UniCredit when the bank took over German group HvBin 2005, is due to leave the post at the annual meeting in April.

He had been expected to stand down from his role since Alessandro Profumo, the chief executive who masterminded UniCredit’s expansion, left the bank 18 months ago, triggering a shake up in senior management.

However, his exit was also heightened by a new law passed by the technocratic government of Mario Monti that seeks to block the same person from holding more than one board seat in any financial institution in Italy.

As well as the chairmanship of UniCredit, Mr Rampl is also a prominent board member of Mediobanca, the Milanese investment bank.

The announcement from Mr Rampl opens up what senior bankers say will be a crucial tussle for board seats at UniCredit, one of Europe’s largest banks with operations in 22 countries and which has become a powerbase for local and international interests.

The bank is already facing a significant shake-up in its board to reflect changes in the shareholder register as a result of a €7.5bn rights issue undertaken in January. Aabar, the Abu Dhabi investment fund, and Italian provincial banking foundations are among the largest shareholders following the cash call.

However, Federico Ghizzoni, UniCredit’s chief executive, has suggested the bank may seek to reduce its number of board seats. The bank currently has 26 board members but may take that number down to 15.

The composition of UniCredit’s board has been a matter of contention since the exit of Mr Profumo in September 2010; the power of local foundations on the board led to his departure.

Since then there has been an uneasy peace at UniCredit, and people familiar with the bank say governance and strategic decisions remain complicated by the weight of the local shareholders whose provincial interests clash with the bank’s international exposure.

The banking foundations, which are politically linked organisations, tend to be provincial in their outlook and are most concerned with the bank making dividend payouts or investments useful in their local communities in regions surrounding Milan.

For their part, leaders of the foundations say they have proved stable shareholders of the bank, supporting three consecutive capital calls and their presence helped Italy’s banking system to weather the financial crisis relatively well.

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