Is this man the next Eurogroup chief?

Jeroen Dijsselbloem.jpg

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem played down but did not deny speculation that he is a serious candidate to take over as head of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers from Jean-Claude Juncker.

Just as EU leaders were meeting in Brussels for a two-day summit, Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported late on Thursday (13 December), that Dijsselbloem was considered a serious challenger to take over as chairman of the Eurogroup.

The job has been held by Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker since 2005 and is one of the key political positions in the single currency bloc, which has been struggling with a sovereign debt crisis for the past three years.

"I believe that everyone has been mentioned. I have also seen my name on those lists," Dijsselbloem told Dutch radio station BNR, laughing.

"We'll just wait and see. You have to be more worried if your name is not on the list than when it is."

Names have started circulating after Juncker announced his imminent departure early December. French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici is considered to be at the top of the list of possible successors, together with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

Any successor would need the support of Germany and France.

Broadcaster NOS said that Germany, the biggest euro zone country economically, wants a candidate from a triple-A rated economy.

Only Germany, Finland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in the euro zone still have the highest credit rating from the major rating agencies.

However, the risk of the Netherlands losing its triple-A status have increased: its economy is expected to contract next year while the budget deficit may exceed the EU's 3 percent ceiling, the central bank warned this week.

Juncker, 57, who has held the Eurogroup job since 2005 and has been a leading protagonist in Europe's monetary union ever since the 1991 Maastricht treaty, said last week he would step down as Eurogroup chief at the end of the year or early next year.

Dijsselbloem, 46, was appointed finance minister last month after Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal party won the general election in September and formed a coalition with the Labour party. Dijsselbloem has been a Labour member of parliament for most of the past 12 years.

The Eurogroup brings together finance ministers of the 17 countries of the eurozone. It is an informal group, set up in 1998, which meets on average once a month, ahead of Ecofin meetings – involving finance ministers of all the 27 EU countries.

The group has gained influence as the eurozone crisis unfolded, becoming a key forum for finance ministers to make decisions on how to tackle the crisis.

Luxembourg Prime Minister and Finance Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has been the first semi-permanent chairman of the Eurogroup since the beginning of 2005. Before, the group was chaired by the finance minister of the country holding the EU presidency.

Under the group’s rules, Juncker should have stepped down in 2009 after two consecutive two-year terms. However, the financial and economic crisis which hit Europe at the end of 2008 pushed eurozone finance ministers to opt for continuity.

Ministers first delayed their decision about a new appointment and then at the end of 2009 chose to confirm Juncker for another two and half years. His mandate ended in mid-2012, but leaders asked him to stay on.

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