Tuesday

22nd May 2018

Eurozone horsetrading may leave Juncker in top job

  • Jean-Claude Juncker may be asked to stay on (Photo: Council of European Union)

Ongoing negotiations on who should chair eurozone finance ministers' meetings are seeking to strike a balance of posts among countries big and small, from the north and south - but may end up sticking with Jean-Claude Juncker.

Following the same well-worn Brussels path for negotiating top jobs, talks behind the scenes carried out by EU council chief Herman Van Rompuy take into account which posts countries already have or may hold in the future.

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So the board seat in the European Central Bank - with a Spaniard, a Luxembourger and a Slovene in the running - is also influencing the discussions.

The 57-year old Luxembourg prime minister has been chairing the Eurogroup ever since the informal gathering started meeting regularly in 2004. He has repeatedly indicated that this mandate, ending in June, will be his last.

But so far, no other candidate has managed to gather consensus among northern and southern euro-countries, among triple-A rated ones and bailed-out ones.

The past two years - with almost weekly Eurogroup meetings - have taken a toll on the Luxembourg politician, who has said he wants to focus on internal politics ahead of the 2014 elections. But now that the euro-crisis is seen to be ebbing, he may accept to stay on, sources say.

"It may still happen that Juncker is asked to stay, at least as a temporary solution for another year," one EU official told this website.

Finland's Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen - favoured by Austria - is seen as too hawkish for the southerners to accept him, after his government demanded special guarantees for the Finnish contribution to the second Greek bail-out. And the economics commissioner, Olli Rehn, is also Finnish, which makes it difficult to maintain 'geographical balance' - a famed aspect of all such Brussels negotiations.

The same goes for Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti - whose name is also rumoured to be in the race and whom Juncker on Tuesday called an "excellent" option for the Eurogroup. But "the other Mario" - European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi - is also Italian. "It's all about perception. You can't have two Italians in charge of the eurozone," the source said.

Monti himself denied wanting the job, during a press conference in Berlin alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel: "Do you think the Italian prime minister can take on other tasks?" He seemed flattered by the thought, however, adding that it shows Italy's standing in Europe has improved.

Germany's own finance minister Wolfgang Schauble is also a name floated for the job. Speaking to journalists in Brussels on Tuesday, Schauble said the Eurogroup chief doesn't have to be a prime minister.

"We are not looking for a permanent Eurogroup chief, but one of its current members. A finance minister can do the job, it doesn't have to be a prime minister," Schauble said in reference to Austria's demand for a permanent chief at prime minister level.

Schauble, as representative of the biggest euro economy and with Germany being the main decision-maker during the euro-crisis, is already almost a de facto eurozone chief.

On Monday, he arrived two hours ahead of the Eurogroup to have a one-on-one meeting with the Spanish minister and hear his arguments for granting Madrid a more flexible deficit target this year.

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