Acting Dutch finance minister, Jeroen Dijssselbloem will continue as Eurogroup President until the end of his mandate in January, various eurozone officials told EURACTIV.com, quashing speculation that he would step down earlier following an election rout at home.
Dijsselbloem will today chair an informal Eurogroup meeting in Tallinn, Estonia.
Rumours on the eve of the meeting were rife that the Dutch finance minister would announce his retirement from the post, following a bruising election defeat last March.
Talks to form a coalition government in the Netherlands have been ongoing since the election took place on 15 March, with parties now close to an agreement.
But Dijsselbloem’s spokesperson noted that there were no announcements scheduled in the programme.
“He has said earlier that he would like to stay until the end of his mandate,” he told EURACTIV.
Senior officials said that Dijsselbloem will chair the meetings of eurozone finance ministers in October, November and December, even if a new Dutch finance minister takes over in the meantime. The plan was discussed among a handful of influential EU countries which backed it as the best way forward, officials explained.
This would be an unusual arrangement since the Eurogroup President is normally selected among acting finance ministers in the eurozone.
A new Dutch government could be formed by mid-October. In this case, according to sources from national governments, Dijsselbloem’s salary would be paid by the EU’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
The Dutchman’s continuation at the Eurogroup’s helm would buy time for EU leaders to decide on a wider reshuffling of the EU’s top economic posts.
During his State of the Union address, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker proposed to create a single post of minister of economy and finance for the bloc to merge the Commission’s vice-presidency for Economic Affairs and the Eurogroup presidency.
This “super minister” would be in charge of supervising structural reforms in EU member states, backed by incentivises from a new fiscal instrument that the European Commission intends to present in December.
By the end of the year, the EU executive will also table a proposal to support investments during economic downturns.
Before that, probably in October or November, national officials expect that the Eurogroup will have decided on its next president, and weigh the political appetite for turning the Eurogroup presidency into an all-powerful post combining key functions in the European Commission and the Council.
This could be a shoe-in for Pierre Moscovici, the EU’s current Economic Affairs Commissioner. The former French finance minister has made no secret of his aspiration to clinch an EU top post, including the Commission presidency.
Moscovici’s rise to the top could be frustrated by political considerations, however.
One of the favourites for the Eurogroup presidency is in fact another Frenchman, Emmanuel Macron’s economic minister, Bruno Le Maire.
All the presidencies of EU institutions are currently held by members of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the EU’s dominant political family. In theory, the Eurogroup presidency should therefore go the EPP, unless EU leaders want to restore some political balance in the overall structure by nominating Moscovici, a socialist.
But Macron still has to decide whether he is part of the European liberals or socialists. A decision that for some may not take place until the European elections in May 2019.
Meanwhile, very few other socialists are considered serious candidates to chair the Eurogroup. They include the Portuguese finance minister, Mario Centeno, who has received praise for turning around the Portuguese economy, and the Slovak Peter Kazimir, seen as a ‘hawk’ by many.
The future of the Eurogroup presidency will also be tied to the presidency and the vice-presidency of the European Central Bank (ECB) that will be up for grabs as from mid-2018. Officials said the ECB discussion will also start in autumn.
Spanish officials take for granted at this stage that the vice-presidency will go to Madrid, after the fourth largest economy of the Eurozone lost a chair in the ECB Executive Board in 2012.
Luis de Guindos, the Spanish economy minister, is said to be in the running. Guindos fought tooth and nail to become Eurogroup president in 2015 but lost to Dijsselbloem. The Spaniard has not confirmed his candidacy yet.
According to some news reports, Germany would be ready to support the ECB vice-presidency for Guindos, in order to secure the presidency for Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank chief.
If that was the case, Berlin would control the presidencies of most EU economic and financial institutions – the ECB, the European Investment Bank, the European Stability Mechanism, and the Single Resolution Board.