Tuesday

18th Dec 2018

Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group

  • Hans Vijlbrief (l) in 2016 talking to Dutch state secretary of economic affairs Eric Wiebes (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The most senior official in the Dutch finance ministry is expected to be chosen as head of the Eurogroup Working Group on Friday (15 December).

Tuomas Saarenheimo, the only other candidate, dropped out of the race on Thursday, making it virtually certain that Hans Vijlbrief will lead the influential Brussels-based committee, which prepares the meetings of eurozone finance ministers, the Eurogroup.

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  • Thomas Wieser (l) speaking to Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem in June 2015. Greek ex-minister Yanis Varoufakis said Wieser was sometimes even more powerful than Dijsselbloem (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The move will secure Dutch continued influence in discussions about the euro, after their former finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem leaves the post of Eurogroup president in January 2018.

Dutch media reported the news on Thursday, saying that Vijlbrief will officially be chosen via teleconference on Friday.

A source in the Council of the EU confirmed to EUobserver that there was "only one candidate left", while a Finnish source told this website that the Finnish candidate, Saarenheimo, permanent under-secretary at the Finnish ministry of finance, dropped out on Thursday.

"He withdrew his candidacy because there was more support for the Dutch candidate," the Finnish contact said.

The Eurogroup Working Group is made up of senior officials from euro area member states, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank.

Outgoing Eurogroup Working Group president Thomas Wieser, an Austrian, had been in the post since January 2012.

The position is for two years, but can be extended.

'Most powerful man in Brussels'

Yanis Varoufakis, who was Greece's finance minister and Eurogroup member for seven months in 2015, described Wieser as "the true power broker within the eurozone".

Varoufakis wrote in his 2017 book Adults in the Room that Wieser was "the most powerful man in Brussels, far more so than Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, or Pierre Moscovici, commissioner for economic and finance affairs … or even, on occassion, Dijsselbloem himself."

"At such times he seemed to run the whole show," Varoufakis wrote about Wieser in his political memoirs, in which he gave his view of the struggle between debt-ridden Greece and the troika of creditors.

He criticised the Eurogroup Working Group as "the shadowy crucible in which the troika forges its plans and policies".

Wieser had also been the man who gave press off-the-record briefings ahead of Eurogroup meetings.

Dijsselbloem for Vijlbrief

The support for Vijlbrief suggests that the Dutch government played it smart by not accepting an extended six-month mandate for Dijsselbloem, as proposed by France and Germany.

According to Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, the Hague dropped Dijsselbloem so that they can focus their lobbying efforts on behalf of Vijlbrief – as securing both positions for such a relatively small member state would be unlikely.

The newspaper noted that to the chagrin of its Benelux partner Luxembourg, the Netherlands supported the Portuguese candidate to succeed Dijsselbloem, and not the Luxembourgish one.

According to UK newspaper the Financial Times last August, France initially also had a candidate for the Eurogroup Working Group.

Hans Vijlbrief, who holds a doctorate in economics, had been the most senior civil servant at the Dutch finance ministry since 2011. Before that he worked for a decade at the ministry of economic affairs, where he also had experience in the 1990s.

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