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22nd Jul 2018

Eurogroup closes Schaeuble era

  • "For me it’s quite a good ending," said Schaeuble (c) before his last Eurogroup meeting. (Photo: Council of the EU)

The Eurogroup bade farewell to its longest-serving and most influential member on Monday (9 October), while preparing to also replace its chairman at the end of the year.

Germany's Wolfgang Schaeuble participated in his last meeting of eurozone finance ministers, after eight years in the post. He is now due to become president of the Bundestag, the German parliament's lower house, later this month.

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  • "Hopefully, in the January Eurogroup there will be a new chair," said Dijsselbloem, who is to lose his Dutch finance minister portfolio. (Photo: Council of the EU)

"We have succeeded in eight years of crisis to keep the euro stable against many expectations. So for me it's quite a good ending," Schaeuble told reporters before the meeting in Luxembourg when asked to comment on his legacy.

Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem praised Schaeuble's "authority" among his colleagues and noted that he was "very actively involved during all those crisis years in which the eurozone almost fell apart."

"I've always been convinced, even in the toughest discussions that we had … that he always put the long-term interest of a strong and stable eurozone first," Dijsselbloem, a close ally of the German minister, said.

Schaeuble's strict stance on austerity was often criticised, in particular in the case of the Greek crisis. In 2015, his attempt to expel Greece from the eurozone was rejected by EU leaders.

"Nothing will be quite the same again," Greek minister Euclid Tsakalotos wrote on an EU flag, together with messages from other colleagues, which was given to Schaeuble at the start of the meeting. The German minister also got a bottle of wine from his French colleague Bruno Le Maire and a euro banknote with his portrait on it from Slovakia's Peter Kazimir.

"It was a real moment of shared emotions," EU finance commissioner Pierre Moscovici said after the meeting. He also praised Schaeuble's "absolutely decisive contribution" to the Eurogroup.

Schaeuble's successor will be appointed when a coalition is formed in Berlin, most likely between chancellor Angela Merkel's christian-democrats, the liberals and the Greens. Talks will start on 18 October.

The finance portfolio is expected to go to a liberal. In the meantime, Merkel's right-hand man, Peter Altmeier, could become acting minister.

After Schaeuble, another key member of the Eurogroup will also leave at the end of the year.

New president

The group's president, Dijsselbloem, confirmed on Monday that he will lose his Dutch finance ministry portfolio later this month, when a new coalition government takes office in Netherlands.

Dijsselbloem's Labour party will not be part of coalition, whose programme is to be announced on Tuesday.

Dijsselbloem said that there was "unanimous support" from the Eurogroup for him to remain president until the end of his mandate in January.

His successor will be chosen on 4 December.

"Hopefully, in the January Eurogroup there will be a new chair," he said.

Candidates for his succession could include Kazimir, a social-democrat, and Le Maire, who was a centre-right minister before becoming an ally of French president Emmanuel Macron.

"There is a logic that there should be a social-democrat," Moscovici said, referring to the political "balance" between the top posts in EU institutions.

Since Antonio Tajani, from the centre-right EPP party, replaced social-democrat Martin Schulz as European Parliament president last January, the three main EU institutions are held by EPP politicians - Jean-Claude Juncker at the Commission and Donald Tusk at the Council.

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