Juncker’s Eurogroup bid under attack

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Italy is refusing to give up its bid for the presidency of the Eurogroup and is challenging the informally announced re-appointment of Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker to the job, EURACTIV has learned. The battle could also involve the appointment of the new president of the European Central Bank.

“Negotiations over the appointment of the chairman of the Eurogroup are still open,” Italian Minister for European Affairs Andrea Ronchi told journalists on Friday (4 December). 

“The last word is up to the European Council,” Ronchi added, referring to an EU summit which opens in Brussels this week, on Thursday and Friday (10-11 December).

Italy is openly pushing for the appointment of Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti to the job, which has been held by Juncker since 2004.

The Italian pressure comes after the decision to re-appoint Juncker had seemed like a done deal, according to statements released by Eurogroup ministers meeting in Brussels last week.

“There is absolutely no doubt that he will be elected president of the Eurogroup for the next two-and-a-half years,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters last week, referring to Juncker (EURACTIV 02/12/09).

However, the official decision will not be taken until January, by majority vote between the 16 countries that share the EU’s common currency. EU leaders will discuss the issue informally on the margins of a summit in Brussels on 10-11 December, Ronchi said.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is pushing Tremonti’s candidacy as a kind of compensation for Italy having lost out on the European Parliament presidency, which went to Poland last June. Berlusconi’s candidate Mario Mauro was defeated by the current president of the EU assembly, Jerzy Buzek (EURACTIV 24/06/09).

Less vocally, Italy is also said to be aiming for the presidency of the European Central Bank, currently headed by Frenchman Jean-Claude Trichet, whose term ends at the beginning of 2011. Raising Italy’s voice over the chairmanship of the Eurogroup may be contributing to hiding its other objective, diplomats said.

Italy’s candidate for the ECB position is the widely-acclaimed governor of the Italian Central Bank, Mario Draghi. However, Germany has long been promised the job and is unlikely to give it up.

The only chance that the Italians have of obtaining something is to involve other Eurogroup countries in the battle. French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde has also been tipped for the presidency of the Eurogroup (EURACTIV 19/11/09). 

But will France be ready to join forces with Berlusconi’s Italy against Germany, its long-time ally, which has been supporting Juncker? Lagarde brushed aside any such suggestions. “Juncker is today the only candidate,” she said last week before the Eurogroup meeting in Brussels.

Background

The Eurogroup is a monthly session of finance ministers from the 16 euro-area countries and the European Commission, in which European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet also sits. Meetings take place the day before regular meetings of finance ministers from the 27 EU member countries (Ecofin Councils).

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has already served as Eurogroup chairman for five years. His current two-year term is set to expire at the end of 2010.

The issue of the Eurogroup chairmanship has arisen due to the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December. The treaty institutionalises the Eurogroup, which was not mentioned in the previous treaties. Its chairman is to be elected for two-and-a-half years instead of two years, as was previously the case. 

Timeline

  • 10-11 Dec. 2009: EU summit in Brussels.
  • End 2010: Juncker's current mandate at the Eurogroup expires.

Further Reading

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