Dutch vote throws Eurogroup leadership into doubt

Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem's mandate ends in January, but MEPs want him to resign over disparaging comments about Southern European member states and his defeat in the Dutch election. [EU2016NL/ Flickr]

Jeroen Dijsselbloem could well lose his role as chair of the EU body coordinating eurozone policy after his party was routed in the Dutch election. But there is a chance he could retain his position even if he is no longer finance minister in a new coalition.

While other eurozone finance ministers may seek the post, there is a lack of obvious contenders, particularly given that many governments will resist appointing a politician from the right because conservatives hold most other top EU jobs.

There has also been speculation that the Eurogroup could keep him on as chairman until his second 30-month term ends next January, even if he loses his national job.

Even that isn’t certain, although liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte may struggle to retain Dijsselbloem in such a senior cabinet post after the Labour Party crashed from second to seventh place in preliminary results and lost more than three quarters of its seats.

Dutch election offers huge relief for other EU governments

Exit polls showing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) far ahead of Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) were greeted with relief in Brussels yesterday night (15 March), amid fears of a surge in populism in Europe, with elections in France and Germany still to come in 2017.

Neither man commented on the matter directly yesterday (16 March). Dijsselbloem is due to represent the Eurogroup at a G20 meeting in Germany today (17 March) and to chair the monthly meeting of the 19 eurozone finance ministers in Brussels on Monday (20 March).

Either way, he could remain the Netherlands’ finance minister for months yet if Rutte, who has made clear his appreciation of Dijsselbloem’s work, struggles to put together a new coalition. Rutte’s party lost seats too and Eurosceptics finished in second place.

A future coalition might also cherish the added influence that keeping Dijsselbloem as Eurogroup president gives. In that case, it might opt to leave him in post while replacing the junior minister from Rutte’s party that currently speaks for The Hague government within the Eurogroup while Dijsselbloem is chairing with a heavyweight new figure.

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Popular figure

Dijsselbloem, 50, has been popular in the Eurogroup.

He has balanced a background on the left with support from conservative Wolfgang Schäuble, who wields Germany’s power in the eurozone and has set strict terms for Greece and other bailed out states.

Eurogroup rules do not stipulate the president must be a serving finance minister, though senior eurozone officials say that should generally be the case and doubt Dijsselbloem could secure another term without retaining his national portfolio.

Longer term, there is talk of establishing a full-time presidency with its own staff, but that is not yet agreed. Party politics and a quest for influence by governments will, regardless, play a role in any choice of replacement.

The Eurogroup chair is one of four political presidencies of European Union institutions governing the euro currency.

Following a shift at the European Parliament in January and the reappointment last week of Donald Tusk at the European Council of national leaders, all three others, including the executive European Commission, are held by the centre-right.

That complicates the longstanding ambition of conservative Spanish Finance Minister Luis De Guindos to replace Dijsselbloem and might improve the prospects of Slovak leftist Peter Kazimir.

Guindos' reappointment hailed by Eurogroup, Commission

EU officials in Brussels welcomed the confirmation of Luis de Guindos as Spain’s economic affairs minister for a second term. The man is considered as an “extremely able” envoy of the Madrid government.

The latter said in January that he believed Dijsselbloem should serve out his term, however the Dutch voted. De Guindos told reporters yesterday he would not speculate on the job.

Portugal’s centre-left government, held up by some in the eurozone as an example of successful management of a bailout, is represented in the Eurogroup by Finance Minister Mário Centeno, a politically independent professional economist.