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20th Feb 2020

Spain blocks male appointment to ECB board

  • Too many Mr Euros in the eurozone, MEPs say (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Spain has blocked the speedy appointment of Luxembourger Yves Mersch to join the European Central Bank (ECB) board amid a controversy on sexism.

Mersch was to be installed in the post by "written procedure" on Monday (5 November) - a protocol in which EU capitals send their agreement to Brussels in writing instead of holding a debate.

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But Spain at the last minute withheld its assent to the use of the written format, meaning that EU leaders are likely to tackle the thorny subject at a summit on 22 November instead.

The delay comes amid a controversy on gender balance.

The European Parliament in a non-binding resolution last week called for Mersch, the head of Luxembourg's central bank, to be held back because his appointment would mean there will be no women on the ECB board until 2016 at the earliest.

"They should nominate two new candidates - a man and woman and the best should get the job," the leader of the Liberal group, former Belgian PM Guy Verhoftsdat said at the time.

For his part, Spanish finance minister Luis de Guindos said from a G20 meeting Mexico that his decision was linked to parliament's opinion that Mersch "is not an ideal candidate."

But one EU source doubted the move had anything to do with gender. The contact said it could be an attempt to influence the terms of a possible ECB bond-buying scheme for Spain: "But it won't work."

Spain itself proposed a male Spanish lawyer, Antonio Sainz de Vicuna, for the ECB post earlier this year.

Meanwhile, an assistant to Sharon Bowles, a British Liberal MEP who heads parliament's economic affairs committee, told this website that Bowles is "pleased" that Mersch was blocked because she did not like the behind-closed-doors decision-making process.

"We didn't like the way it was being done and now [EU leaders] can have a full democratic debate on the subject," the contact said.

Some member states are irked that parliament has waited so late before raising objections.

One source said MEPs should have lobbied Luxembourg, Madrid and other capitals months ago when the nominations were taking shape.

A contact at the ECB in Frankfurt noted that its chief, Mario Draghi, has said several times that he favours "diversity" but that he also wants a speedy board appointment so that the bank can get on with its work.

Update: This story was updated on 6 November, adding the Guindos quote

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