Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

Centeno: Eurogroup picks Southern head

  • Mario Centano (l) "now commands the unanimous support of the Eurogroup," outgoing president Dijsselbloem said after the vote (Photo: Council of the EU)

Portugal's Mario Centeno was elected on Monday (4 December) as president of the Eurogroup, the informal gathering of eurozone finance ministers.

In a typical EU procedure, when some suspense is followed by the expected result, Centeno beat Luxembourg's Pierre Gramegna in the second round, after less than 90 minutes of discussions and votes, with a "very substantial majority," according to sources.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The two other candidates, Slovakia's Peter Kazimir and Latvia's Dana Reizniece-Ozola, had quit the race after the first round.

In the morning, a source close to the race warned that with a secret vote, where big and small countries have the same weight, there was a "high degree of unpredictability".

But when Centeno entered the meeting room early afternoon, his colleagues' greetings looked more like early congratulations while the three other candidates were waiting to take a group picture.

 A few moments before, the outgoing Eurogroup chief, Jeroen Dijsselbloem had even mentioned Centeno's name as if the Portuguese was already his elected successor.

Centeno told reporters that he won in a "fair and very democratic" race and that he was "ready to work to form consensus" among the 19 members of the Eurogroup.

He is the third president of the Eurogroup, and the first from a southern country after Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker and Netherland's Dijsselbloem.

But the 51-year old Social-Democrat, who will take office on 13 January, will have to affirm his authority.

He came to the forefront very late in the race, when he appeared to be the only candidate who could tick the main boxes set by his colleagues.

 EU leaders had agreed that the Eurogroup should be chaired by a Social Democrat, as the centre-right EPP holds the European Commission, Council and Parliament.

The new president should also be willing to pursue eurozone integration and be acceptable to the biggest countries, in particular France and Germany.

There was "no obvious strong candidate" among the four who emerged, a top official noted on Tuesday.

Another one, close to the discussions that took place ahead of the meeting, said that the best candidate would have been Italy's minister Pier Carlo Padoan.

But with elections due in Italy in spring, which the ruling Democratic Party could lose, "there was a risk of instability" in the Eurogroup if Padoan later lost his portfolio, the official said.

Centeno, who shares French ideas for a eurozone budget with an investment capacity, became the best candidate for Paris, which lobbied its closest allies, and especially Germany, a French source said.

After the four candidates presented their bid to their colleagues, Centeno got eight votes out of 19 in the first round, while Gramegna got five, and Kazimir and Reizniece-Ozola got three each.


Reizniece-Ozola was the first to leave the race.

She said after the meeting that "older member had states prevailed," and that "for younger member states, it's a clear sign that we have to work twice as actively as we've done so far."

Other ministers then asked Kazimir to throw in the towel too, in order to "avoid a second, and maybe a third round that would make the vote uncertain", a French source said.

Centeno "now commands the unanimous support of the Eurogroup," outgoing Eurogroup chief Dijsselbloem said.

'Unique' window

German minister Peter Altmeier noted that the ministers' choice was the "recognition of the hard and successful reforms" done by the Portuguese government - an anti-austerity leftwing government that has succeeded in reducing the deficit and unemployment.

Centeno comes at a time when the European economy is recording the strongest growth in ten years and when EU leaders have decided to push forward a strengthening of the eurozone.

"We have a very unique time window [of opportunity] to further prepare our economy and societies better," Centeno said.

"We have been discussing for quite some times ways to complete the eurozone. We've made big steps in recent years but we do understand that there is more to do," he said.

"We want financial stability to be reality in the future and we have to construct the conditions for that to be the case. We need to focus on convergence and a euro are that is resilient", he added.

Portuguese minister favourite in 'open' Eurogroup race

Mario Centeno has the backing of the Socialists who claim the post. But the Slovak and Latvian candidates could appeal to the supporters of fiscal discipline, while the Luxembourgish hopeful seems to be outdistanced.

Commission wants more centralised eurozone by 2019

EU leaders will discuss at their summit next week the commission's proposals, which include a European Monetary Fund and an EU finance minister - but no eurozone budget, as proposed by French president Emmanuel Macron.

Spain's De Guindos to be ECB vice-president

Spanish finance minister Luis de Guindos will join the the European Central Bank in June, after his sole rival for the vice-presidency job stepped down on Monday.

EU on path towards whistleblower protection

EU lawmakers and member states have struck a political deal on the first-ever EU-wide directive on whistleblower protection - following years of big tax-evasion revelations and the laundering of dirty money in European banks.

News in Brief

  1. EU tables plan for joint approach to 5G security
  2. MEPs agree to scrap summer time clock changes by 2021
  3. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  4. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  5. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  6. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  7. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  8. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. EU lawmakers pass contentious copyright law
  2. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  3. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  4. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  5. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  6. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  7. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  8. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us