Tuesday

13th Nov 2018

Dijsselbloem re-elected as Eurogroup chief

  • 'I like his style. He's a nice guy' (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Jeroen Dijsselbloem has been re-elected as president of the Eurogroup, the body of eurozone finance ministers, on Monday (13 July), the EU Council announced in a press statement.

"The Eurogroup reappointed Jeroen Dijsselbloem as president of the Eurogroup for the next 2.5 years. This decision was unanimously supported by all Eurogroup members", the press release said.

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Dutch finance minister Dijsselbloem has been the second to hold the post, and his fellow finance ministers have now given him a second mandate.

He has been praised for his factual and non-emotional approach to the Greek debt crisis, and for being amicable.

He was running against Spanish finance minister Luis de Guindos. Spain's prime minister explicitly said he wanted De Guindos to get the post, partly because Spain feels it is its "turn" to receive a big EU post.

Ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup meeting, Slovak prime minister Peter Kazimir said Dijsselbloem helped the eurozone finance ministers “to navigate … during the [Greek] crisis, and he did an excellent job”.

“I like his style. He's a nice guy”, Kazimir said.

Dijsselbloem’s Finnish counterpart, Alexander Stubb – rumoured as a compromise candidate – did not cite his preference before the meeting.

“I've gotten to know both gentlemen [Dijsselbloem and De Guindos] over the years. They are very good professionals, they have a good track record in European affairs. … I like both of them”, he said.

Jeroen Rene Victor Anton Dijsselbloem, born in 1966, has been Dutch finance minister since November 2012 for the Dutch centre-left Labour party. During Labour's coalition talks with Mark Rutte's centre-right Liberal party, Dijsselbloem was his party leader's right-hand.

The coalition is a pragmatic one, and Dijsselbloem is often described as a member of a new generation born in the 1960s of pragmatic, not overtly ideologically-driven Dutch politicians – of which prime minister Rutte is also a part.

Dijsselbloem had only been minister for two months when he was elected as second-ever Eurogroup president in January 2013, as successor to then finance minister (and PM) of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker. Juncker had held the post since 2005.

When Dijsselbloem started, the Eurogroup had 17 members. It now has 19.

Gaffes

His success comes after something of a false start.

In his third month as Eurogroup president, Dijsselbloem received a lot of criticism when Reuters and FT quoted him as saying that the bailout programme for Cyprus, which included a haircut on depositors, was a template for other countries.

After the interview caused financial markets to drop and pundits to criticize the statement, Dijsselbloem said he never actually used the word template – something which was proven when the FT published a transcript of the interview.

But his subsequent comment, in a Dutch talkshow, that he didn't even know the English word for “template”, also wasn't appreciated by everyone.

There was another comment which backfired, when, in January 2014, Dijsselbloem joked on Dutch national TV that his predecessor Juncker had been an “inveterate smoker, and drinker by the way”.

“After his departure, the atmosphere has become substantially more Calvinist”, he added with a smile.

But although Dijsselbloem has apologised at least twice to Juncker, the joke is said to have shattered Dijsselbloem's chances of gaining a post in Juncker's college of commissioners.

Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reported last year that the Dutch government had lobbied for over a year to get Dijsselbloem an important commission post, preferably as commissioner for economic and monetary affairs.

The paper noted that Dijsselbloem was not an acceptable candidate for Juncker, and the Dutch government opted to nominate Frans Timmermans instead.

The relationship with Juncker has improved.

“It was an unfortunate joke that caused a lot of trouble for Jean-Claude. I apologised to him twice, first by telephone, later over a cup of coffee. That should put the affair to rest, you can’t string it out forever”, Dijsselbloem told Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland last month, adding that the relationship between the two presidents is “good”.

Greece

It is Dijsselbloem's firm handling of the Greek debt crisis the last months which solidified his re-election.

In what could be seen as an endorsement, or at least a rehabilitation, Dijsselbloem received generous praise from Juncker recently.

On Monday 29 June, after the Greek government had announced it would hold a referendum, Juncker gave an emotional speech in which he noted “that Mr Dijsselbloem did an excellent job for the last months, an excellent job”.

He added that Dijsselbloem “has bent over backwards to reach an agreement over the past few weeks”.

After last weekend's marathon meetings – Dijsselbloem had a 14-hour Eurogroup meeting followed by a 17-hour euro summit – Dijsselbloem again received praise for his role.

EU Council president Donald Tusk on Monday morning thanked Dijsselbloem (and Juncker) for their dedication and involvement.

“Without your hard work, this agreement wouldn't even be possible”, he said.

Following the press conference, Dijsselbloem took a few minutes to speak to Dutch press.

Did this summit weekend enhance his chances of being re-elected, that same afternoon?

“In as far as that was necessary, perhaps”, he said. A few hours later he was back at the Council building. When asked if he stood a chance to be re-elected, Dijsselbloem said: “Certainly”.

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The Eurogroup has emerged as a key body in the EU's evolving economic governance, playing a major role in the current dispute with Greece over further bailout money, yet it is democratically accountable to no one.

Eurozone chief in 'drinks and women' row

[Updated] The Netherlands' Jeroen Dijsselbloem faces calls for resignation after saying that crisis-hit countries in southern Europe spent "money on drinks and women" before being helped by others.

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