Donohoe wins Eurogroup presidency

Irish Finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, and outgoing Eurogroup President, Mario Centeno, during a Eurogroup meeting in November 2019. [Council]

Ireland’s minister of Finance, Pascal Donohoe, will be the next Eurogroup chief, outgoing president Mario Centeno announced.

Donohoe obtained a simple majority among the 19 finance ministers of the euro area, in a vote that took place on Thursday (9 July) afternoon.

Donohoe and his main rival, Spanish Economic Affairs Minister Nadia Calviño, were believed to be very close in terms of supporters ahead of the vote. Luxembourg’s Pierre Gramegna was eliminated in the first round of voting.

Although Calvino had the support of finance ministers from the eurozone’s largest economies, securing the support of France on Thursday morning, it was not sufficient for the Spanish minister to win the couple of votes she still needed while Donohoe rallied the support of the EPP finance ministers and northern eurozone members.

Germany, France, Italy and Spain represent around 80% of the eurozone’s GDP. But Calviño’s remarks in 2018, when she referred to the new ‘Hanseatic League’ as a group of ““small countries with small weight” appears to have weighed against her among the Northern and Baltic members of the group.

Calviño would have become the first woman to lead the Eurogroup. Her defeat also implied that the Socialist group lost another top post, leaving the left-wing family with the European Parliament presidency and the high representative on foreign affairs.

The outgoing Eurogroup president, the Portuguese Socialist Mario Centeno, said that he expected from Donohoe to “strengthen European integration and to protect the euro.”

Instead of “divisions”, Centeno said, “I am sure that the colleagues in the Eurogroup think that it is about how to bring our agenda forward”.

Asked about whether the fractures in the Eurogroup between geographical blocs, political families and big and small countries could hamper his mandate, Donohoe responded that he was “absolutely confident” he would be able to build a consensus among the 19 finance ministers.

“I am very optimistic about our ability to build a very inclusive view regarding how the Eurogroup could work, and how I could work with all my colleagues,” he said.

Donohoe said that his “immediate priority” was to play a “constructive role” to facilitate an agreement on the €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund. He added that in the coming days and weeks, he will discuss with his fellow eurozone colleagues what priorities should come on top of the agenda for his two and a half year mandate, renewable once.

Donohoe, Finance Minister since June 2017, will take over on 13 July, days before EU leaders will try to reach an agreement on the recovery fund on 17-18 summit. Northern countries, in particular the so-called ‘frugal four’ (Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark) and Southern member states are at loggerheads over the level of ambition of the fiscal stimulus and the conditions to access the funds, among other issues.

Another potential bone of contention between the countries is the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact, including the reactivation of the EU fiscal rules, currently suspended due to the coronavirus crisis.

Donohoe said that the first priority was to ensure that the recovery “can become a reality”. Only once growth is back, a decision should be made about the normalisation of the fiscal oversight, he added.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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