EU leaders will try to pick the new European Central Bank president on Thursday evening (20 June), in times when further monetary flexibility is becoming more likely, but EU officials and diplomats have warned against politicising the election of Mario Draghi’s successor.
The ECB presidency will be part of the package of top jobs to be discussed by the EU leaders over dinner, together with the presidencies of the European Commission, Parliament, Council and the High Representative.
The inclusion of the ECB in the package, seen as the crown jewel in the current economic context, left some leaders and senior officials at unease.
‘Super Mario’ is almost unanimously seen as the saviour of the euro in the summer of 2012, thanks to his willingness to do “whatever it takes” to protect the common currency.
But in the capitals and the EU institutions, some fear that the leadership and qualifications of his successor could be limited if it falls under the political horse-trading to balance the election of the other EU’s top jobs.
“Will he be part of the package? Then I hope it is not in a substantial manner,” a senior EU official told EURACTIV.
At least three countries, France, Spain, the Netherlands, had expressed their doubts about including the ECB post in the summit’s menu.
European Council President Donald Tusk tried to reassure sceptics after the summit on 28 May by saying that this would not tarnish the independence of the new central banker of the euro area.
The treaties stipulate that EU leaders, de facto the euro area members, elect the ECB president, after consulting with the ECB and the European Parliament. The candidate should be picked “from among persons of recognised standing and professional experience in monetary or banking matters.”
All options open
It remains to be seen how the nomination process will take place on Thursday, as part of the selection of the EU’s top echelons.
A third senior EU official explained that “all options are on the table,” including the possibility of voting on the candidates for the various posts to reach the required qualified majority among the EU leaders.
As the choice of Draghi’s successor becomes part of the political bargaining, the outcome will be linked primarily to the selection of the European Commission president.
The European People’s Party (EPP), the winner of the European elections, maintains its rock-solid support for his lead candidate, Manfred Weber, to become the Commission’s helmsman.
The opposition of various leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, make unlikely his nomination, European sources explained.
A German official warned that it would take a lot of persuasion to get the EPP to agree on a candidate other than Weber, highlighting the blocking minority of the EPP in the European Parliament and Council.
The fall of Weber, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s German allies, the CSU party, would strength Merkel’s claim over other top jobs, chief among them the ECB.
The president of the Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, is seen as a frontrunner for the post.
But his opposition to the loose monetary stance complicates his chances among some euro members, especially in the South.
Another source close to ECB thinking, however, said that this time around, neither France nor Germany could have their nationals at the top jobs.
That would not only discard Weidmann but also the French names, including the governor of the Bank of France, François Villeroy de Galhau, and the member of the ECB’s executive council, Benoit Coeure.
In that scenario, the Finn duo, central banker Olli Rehn and his predecessor, Erkki Liikanen, both former EU Commissioners, would come on top of the list.
Still, a German official made clear that it would be unthinkable that either Germany or France would be overruled in any top job decision.
“There will have to be a French-German compromise”, the official said. Yet, this would not necessarily mean, that one of the top jobs would have to be given to either both or none. The only certain thing at this point is that there would be an agreement by the beginning of July, he added.
Despite the list of potential candidates is well known, national diplomats are keeping the cards close to their chest.
A Spanish official said that Madrid would want a central banker “capable of doing what Draghi has done when necessary, committed to the stability of the eurozone”.
“There are people who are more committed to the stability of the eurozone,” he added.
A French representative tried to stress, that for them, the most important point would be to nominate “powerful” candidates – and also gave a hint that France would not insist on getting a French ECB president.
“There are many other important jobs in finance to be distributed”, the official said.
What France will insist on is that two of the top jobs will be given to women. Further, the next president of the Commission should preferably come from a eurozone country. This might be an argument against Margrethe Vestager – as Denmark has not adopted the euro.
A third senior EU diplomat highlighted that the ECB chair should go to a banker, “the very best” of them. “A banker is a banker”, he insisted. That would disqualify names like the IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde.
[Beatriz Rios and Aline Robert contributed to this article]
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]