Juncker re-opens race for Eurogroup chief
The head of eurozone finance ministers' meetings (the Eurogroup), Jean-Claude Juncker, has opened the race for his succession, with French finance minister Moscovici or Austrian PM Faymann seen as possible candidates.
"I informed colleagues that the intention when my mandate was renewed last July is that I would step down by the end of this year - early next year. I asked them to do everything possible to appoint another minister as chair of the Eurogroup," Juncker said on Monday (3 December) at a press conference in Brussels.
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As the EU's longest-serving Prime Minister and Eurogroup chair - a post he has held for the past seven years - Juncker has shown signs of physical fatigue and has publicly lamented his kidney stone condition.
German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was slated as his successor back in June, but the newly elected French President, Francois Hollande, objected to having the budget hawk orchestrate eurozone affairs.
Asked if he still finds Schaeuble a good candidate, Juncker said: "I dont have to endorse anyone, I was asking my colleagues to provide for my succession."
Meanwhile, German government sources say that Schaeuble was never really keen on the job and is now even less interested because his potential mandate would be less than one year long.
The potentially brief mandate is due to the fact that general elections are scheduled in Germany in autumn 2013 and it is unsure whether he would still be finance minister afterwards.
French finance minister Pierre Moscovici could replace Juncker, provided the German government agrees.
The relationship between the two ministers has soured over the last weeks during the negotiations on the Greek bailout and a new EU banking supervisor, however.
Concerns about France's management of its own economic woes are adding to the strains in the Franco-German relationship.
The Financial Times Deutschland reported that a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French leader Francois Hollande earlier this autumn arranged for a rotation system whereby Moscovici would get the Eurogroup job if he was then to be succeeded by a German.
But the report could not be confirmed in Berlin, while Moscovici himself said he does not know "where this comes from."
Both Moscovici and Schauble praised Juncker and said he was doing a great job.
Seasoned diplomats have said that it is not unthinkable that the Luxembourg politician carries on for another year if there is no agreement on his successor, as was already the case in July.
Meanwhile, Austrian newspaper Kurier meanwhile has reported that Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann could be a compromise solution.
His political flag - he is a Social Democrat - may also appease French concerns of having someone too pro-austerity at the helm.
The Austrian government has consistently advocated for a Prime Minister or President - as is the case with Juncker - to head the Eurogroup.