Little-known Dutchman takes over as Eurogroup Chair
The Eurogroup yesterday (21 January) appointed Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem as its president for a two-and-a-half year term that can be renewed. Spain was the only country to abstain.
Dijsselbloem’s appointment was backed by 16 of the 17 eurozone finance ministers.
France too had previously expressed reservations but at the end its Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici voted for Dijsselbloem, a fellow Socialist.
The Eurogroup president is elected by a majority of its members, in line with the Protocol on the Eurogroup, which was introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon (protocol No. 14).
Dijsselbloem (pronounced ‘die-sell-bloom’) succeeds Jean-Claude Juncker, who has chaired the Eurogroup since 1 January 2005 and was its first-ever permanent president. Prior to Juncker, the group was chaired on a rotating basis.
Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, praised Juncker as a “proactive bridge-builder in tough times”, saying he showed pro-activity in addressing the eurozone debt crisis.
Rehn referred to a low point in the eurozone in the spring of 2011 saying Juncker’s leadership had proven decisive. “His shrewd and witty locker-room talk helped to boost our morale and unite our efforts at that critical moment, as well as at many other critical momements," Rehn said.
Juncker said his style is quite different to the one of Dijsselbloem, but that he was convinced that the Dutchman possessed the energy and all the qualities needed for this “very difficult” post.
Dijsselbloem was given the floor at the press conference following his nomination on 21 January. He praised Juncker for being “a European in mind and in heart” and “an outstanding president” of the Eurogroup.
“It’s a distinct honour to be given the responsibility to succeed Jean-Claude,” he said, thanking his colleagues for their confidence. He added that he had put forward his candidature because he is convinced that he can contribute to “good collective decisionmaking”.
Looking ahead, he insisted on preserving the European social-economic model that EU citizens cherish, and that he expected 2013 to be a crucial year.
“Confidence has begun to return to the euro area. But ... the job is not done yet. We still have a lot to do to strengthen trust, to help create sustainable growth and to increase employment. We need to keep the momentum ... to live up to promises we’ve made and take further steps where needed”, he said.
The first negative reactions to Dijsselbloem’s appointment point out at his relative inexperience - he had been finance minister of the Netherlands barely six weeks when his name was first floated as a Eurogroup contender.
Dijsselbloem’ inexperience is also interpreted in the sense that he would be easily manipulated by Germany.
The Eurogroup comprises the finance ministers of the 17 countries of the eurozone. It is an informal group, set up in 1998, which meets on average once a month, ahead of Ecofin meetings – involving finance ministers of all the 27 EU countries.
The group has gained influence as the eurozone crisis unfolded, becoming a key forum for finance ministers to make decisions on how to tackle the crisis.
Luxembourg Prime Minister and Finance Minister Jean-Claude Juncker had been the first semi-permanent chairman of the Eurogroup since he took the post in 2005. Before, the group was chaired by the finance minister of the country holding the rotating EU presidency.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy congratulated Jeroen Dijsselbloem on his appointment. “Having called and met all 17 heads of state and government of the euro area, I am convinced that he has broad support," he said in a statement.
Van Rompuy also extended his "gratitude to the outgoing president of the Eurogroup," Jean-Claude Juncker. “I know Jean-Claude Juncker for 25 years already. He is the most experienced of us all. Jean-Claude Juncker deserves our gratitude. Not only was he the very first president of the Eurogroup but he also led it during the most difficult period - and even with a smile and sense of humour,” Van Rompuy’s statement ends.
In the European Parliament, the Green/EFA group reacted negatively to Dijsselbloem's nomination. Green finance spokesperson Sven Giegold MEP said in a statement:
“Eurogroup finance minister will today sign off on the fait accompli, confirming the backdoor deal on the appointment of Jeroen Dijsselbloem as new chair of the Eurogroup. Quite apart from the question-marks about his limited experience, after only 3 months as finance minister, the deal means yet another opportunity lost in terms of redressing the absence of female representation at the highest level of decision-making in the Eurozone.
"After the problems with appointment of Yves Mersch to the ECB board last year (1), and the failure to consider female candidates, the Eurogroup appointment could have been used to set the record straight. However, instead of an open selection process, with other candidates having the opportunity of presenting themselves - notably the two female Eurogroup finance ministers - Jeroen Dijsselbloem was the only candidate considered. As such, it is another missed chance to get the gender balance right in management of the Euro crisis.”
Speaking from Sofia, Sergey Stanishev, President of the Party of European Sociaslists (PES) added his voice to the congratulations for Dijsselbloem saying that the Dutch Finance Minister would provide "welcome new energy in the work of the Eurogroup.”
Stanishev added that he was "heartened that our family’s ECOFIN Ministers have reiterated their commitment to meet on a regular basis. Our family stands united to promote our progressive values. Solidarity is at the heart of our economic and financial policy. We must continue our efforts so that European priorities are finally focused on the needs of our citizen’s and that their wellbeing is safeguarded, in the short term and the long term."