Former European Central Bank Executive Board member and Italian Economy Minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, an architect of the euro and one of Italy's most respected figures, died on Saturday evening of a heart attack.

As a top official at the European Commission and the Bank of Italy in the 1980s and 90s, Padoa-Schioppa played a key part in the creation of the single currency but always believed greater economic integration was needed for it to be successful.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called him a great European and one of the fathers of the euro.

In August, 70-year-old Padoa-Schioppa was named as adviser to Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on a range of issues from the economy to banking, as part of Greece's efforts to fix its financial problems.

He was among the first who believed in our efforts to tackle the crisis and spoke publicly on this, Papandreou said. We will remember him with love and gratitude.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said Padoa-Schioppa, who was responsible for financial stability matters on the ECB board from 1998 to 2005, made an outstanding contribution to the establishment and consolidation of the Frankfurt-based bank.

European Monetary Union is losing a man of reflection, of action and of vision, fully dedicated to European unity, he said in a statement issued by the ECB.

Current ECB board-member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi described his predecessor as a euro-optimist, who saw the euro zone's current debt crisis as an opportunity to make progress toward political unity.

As economy minister in Romano Prodi's center-left cabinet between 2006 and 2008 he consolidated public finances, but as an unelected official with no party affiliation he often appeared isolated in the weak and fractious coalition government.

He created a storm as economy minister when he said in a television interview that taxes were wonderful, a remark that went down badly in a nation where tax evasion is almost a national sport.

In an article in Sunday's Messaggero daily, Prodi said Padoa-Schioppa believed an important task of political institutions was to tame often irrational financial markets.

Padoa-Schioppa, who studied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was also head of Italy's market watchdog Consob in 1997-98.

Last week he was appointed to the board of Fiat Industrial, the newly created company that will be responsible for Fiat's industrial and agricultural vehicles.

(Writing by Gavin Jones and Nigel Tutt; Editing by Mike Nesbit and Matthew Lewis)