Sunday

18th Aug 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.

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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.

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