French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said on Sunday (20 January) that he expected Dutch counterpart Jeroen Dijsselbloem to be appointed Eurogroup chief, suggesting Paris had bowed to the inevitable despite reservations about him.
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 has been the first semi-permanent chairman of the Eurogroup since the beginning of 2005. Before, the group was chaired by the finance minister of the country holding the EU presidency.
Under the group’s rules, Juncker should have stepped down in 2009 after two consecutive two-year terms. However, the financial and economic crisis which hit Europe at the end of 2008 pushed eurozone finance ministers to opt for continuity.
Ministers first delayed their decision about a new appointment and then at the end of 2009 chose to confirm Juncker for another two and half years. His mandate ended in mid-2012, but leaders asked him to stay on.
Ahead of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Monday, Moscovici said that gathering was set to confirm Dijsselbloem as Eurogroup head, where he would be taking over from veteran Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg.
Just last week, Moscovici told a German newspaper he needed to know more about the Dutchman's agenda and suggested that the appointment might not be made before February at the earliest.
He acknowledged for the first time on Sunday however that the Dutchman was set to be selected on Monday, when eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels.
"It will in all likelihood be Mr Dijsselbloem. That should be endorsed tomorrow."
Moscovici, interviewed on French television, said he hoped Dijsselbloem would promote Europe with as much commitment as outgoing Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker did over the past eight years.
"I maintain a request that he spell out his vision of what he expects for Europe. That's the least we should expect - that Mr Dijsselbloem tell us what he expects and wants," Moscovici said in an interview on TV5 television channel.
The French minister's own name did the rounds in the media at one stage as a possible candidate for the job of Eurogroup chief, a post that involves chairing monthly meetings of finance ministers and representing them internationally.
"It won't be me. I was never a candidate for this post," Moscovici said.
Moscovici said he hoped the Dutchman would "continue in the tradition of Mr Juncker", stressing the latter did a good job of taking account of the crucial roles of France and Germany.
On economic growth, Moscovici said the outlook for the eurozone as a whole was "extremely weak" for 2013, which he said he hoped would be a transition year before a broader pickup.
"The eurozone as a whole may be in recession. It will not be France's case and I maintain my forecast of 0.8% growth [in 2013]," Moscovici said.
He said he hoped France would be able to deliver on President François Hollande's objective of reversing an upward trend in unemployment by end-2013, adding: "I know it's ambitious."