Dijsselbloem fails to win support to complete mandate

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem was under the spotlight early this year after he said that southern countries blew money on drinks and women. [European Council]

A new president of the Eurogroup could be elected by the summer break, as the controversy surrounding Jeroen Dijsselbloem has almost put paid to any chance he had of completing his mandate once a new Dutch government is formed.

Dijsselbloem, the Netherlands’ acting finance minister, has almost no chance of remaining head of the Eurogroup once Dutch politicians reach an agreement following the country’s national elections, a European source with knowledge of this topic revealed.

The election of a new candidate could happen in May or June, the official added.

Public outcry in several national governments and in the European Parliament, triggered by his comments about Southern member states, made his situation untenable, his critics say.

He told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that bailout countries misspent their money on “alcohol and women” before asking for financial support.

His refusal to apologise initially provoked a wave of condemnation and calls for his resignation.

Vestager: Dijsselbloem's comments are 'wrong'

Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager skipped the European Commission’s “no comment on comments” policy to criticise Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s remarks about southern member states.

The situation worsened after he ruled out speaking in front of the European Parliament’s plenary today (4 April) to discuss the Greek bailout programme. Despite the heavy criticism levelled his way, almost no MEPs were in the room when the debate actually began.

During the opening of the plenary session yesterday (3 April) the groups unanimously said he is no longer “the right person for the post” and asked for his resignation.

MEPs 'unanimously' condemn Eurogroup chief's no-show

European Parliament lawmakers yesterday (3 April) “unanimously condemned” the refusal by Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem to appear at a hearing on Greece this week.

Parliament President Antonio Tajani announced he would send a letter of formal protest to Dijsselbloem. French liberal MEP Alain Lamassoure proposed declaring him “persona non grata”, prompting a round of applause among his colleagues.

Dijsselbloem hoped he could remain in the post until his mandate ends in January 2018. He said after the last Eurogroup in March he would sound out eurozone finance ministers about his future.

Dijsselbloem to open debate on his future as Eurogroup chief

Acting Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said yesterday (20 March) that he would have a discussion with his eurozone colleagues about his continuation as Eurogroup president, following the electoral debacle of his party in The Netherlands.

But he would not find support among his main backers, in particular Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel championed his candidacy when he was elected in Januray 2013.

Now, it seems Berlin would not be ready to support the Dutch politician up to early 2018, sources told EURACTIV.

But German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble would not insist on nominating a new president before the second review of the Greek programme is concluded.

However, once the arduous process is completed, Berlin would be ready to let Dijsselbloem fall on his sword. The second review should be wrapped up by June, given the large amount of debt maturities Greece faces in July and August.

Greece's lenders shift from austerity to reforms

The Eurogroup took a small step on Monday (20 February) towards the completion of the second review of Greece’s €86 billion rescue programme, placing the emphasis on reforms over austerity to reduce the country’s huge debt pile.

The Dutchman is fighting tooth and nail to continue chairing the euro club even once a new finance minister takes over back in his home country.

Despite being the big loser of March elections in the Netherlands, he said he would continue in the post as it was his responsibility to the eurozone ministers who appointed him.

In order to try to turn the page on his controversial remarks, he sent a letter today to the MEPs.

“I shall be even more careful in the future as it is never my intention to insult people,” he wrote.

But he did not apologise nor indicate when he would appear before the plenary, as the legislators demanded.

Which candidate?

Despite Dijsselbloem’s stint at the Eurogroup’s helm seemingly nearing its end, sources found it more difficult to come up with a name to succeed him.

Spain’s finance minister, Luis de Guindos, is no longer the favourite as the eurozone members are on the hunt for a non-European People’s Party (EPP) candidate.

Among the Socialists, Slovak minister Peter Kazimir is frequently touted as a potential option. The name of his Portuguese colleague, Mario Centeno, has also emerged among the candidates, especially since the member states would like to reward the efforts made by southern countries to overcome their financial difficulties.

Centeno “would be an excellent president of the Eurogroup”, his prime minister, Antonio Costa, said. But “it is not in our priorities”, he added, as he prefers his minister to focus on the reform agenda at home.

The Italian minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, is also highly appreciated among his colleagues. But his nomination is almost impossible given that Italians already lead the European Central Bank, the European Parliament, hold the High Representative post and the key Commission’s Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs.

Meanwhile, a diplomatic source suggested a French option as part of the short-list, as he pointed out that, most likely, a “half-socialist” minister would come out of the May elections.

But the efforts to reach a political and even geographical balance are not coupled with attempts to correct the gender imbalance, as all EU bodies are led by men.

The only two female members of the Eurogroup, Mateja Vraničar Erman (Slovenia), and Dana Reizniece-Ozola (Latvia) are not mentioned as Dijsselbloem’s successors.

The president of the Eurogroup has the following responsibilities:

  • chairs Eurogroup meetings and sets agendas for them
  • draws up the Eurogroup's long-term work programme
  • presents the outcomes of Eurogroup discussions to the public and to the ministers of non-euro area EU countries
  • represents the Eurogroup in international fora (e.g. G7, IMF)
  • informs the European Parliament about the priorities of the Eurogroup

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.

The Eurogroup president may also be elected chair of the board of governors of the European Stability Mechanism, if the members of the board so decide.

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