MEPs' gender vote sparks power struggle with member states
By Benjamin Fox
The European Parliament on Thursday (25 October) called on ministers to withdraw Yves Mersch's nomination for the European Central Bank's (ECB) executive board, insisting that a female candidate should be considered for the post.
Despite having the support of the centre-right EPP, parliament's largest political group, Mersch was narrowly rejected by 325 votes to 300 with 49 abstentions. The centre-left, Liberal and Green groups led the vote against him. Deputies said their negative opinion on Mersch was solely because of gender balance.
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The move is the first time that MEPs have rejected a Council-nominated candidate for the ECB's top table. The vote confirmed the stance taken by the assembly's economic and monetary affairs committee, which met with Mersch on Monday.
Speaking after the vote, Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal Alde group, said it would be "a huge political error for the Council to proceed in complete disregard of the position adopted today."
"They should nominate two new candidates - a man and woman and the best should get the job," he added.
Green group spokesman Sven Giegold said that: "Mersch's candidacy lacks democratic legitimacy; proceeding to appoint him to the ECB's executive board, in spite of today's vote, would create two different levels of legitimacy."
With 14 years of experience as governor of Luxembourg's central bank, Mersch is the bloc's longest-serving central bank boss. He is also regarded as a monetary policy hawk, opposing proposals such as joint liability eurobonds that would communitise sovereign debt, as well as the ECB becoming a lender of last resort.
Before Mersch was nominated by finance ministers in June, Sharon Bowles, the committee chair, wrote to Eurogroup leader Jean-Claude Juncker urging him to consider a female candidate to replace the ECB's Spanish economist Gonzalo Paramo. In their resolution on Mersch's candidacy, MEPs complained that Juncker had not replied.
Although the parliament only has consultative powers over ECB appointments, the move puts eurozone finance ministers in a difficult position.
At a time when ministers and the ECB are under pressure from MEPs to increase parliamentary scrutiny over the ECB's new functions in a proposed "banking union," defying the EU's only directly elected institution would send out a hostile signal.
However, EU diplomats have indicated that member states are likely to ignore the parliament's position and to press on with the appointment regardless.
One contact said ministers would be "extremely reluctant" to create a precedent of parliament turning its consultative powers into a de facto veto.
Another one noted that "parliament has a consultative role and it was consulted," adding that MEPs had not questioned Mersch's qualifications for the post.
Neither Juncker's spokesman nor the ECB were prepared to comment when contacted by this website.