Man with ‘Finnish guts’ named eurozone chief

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Olli Rehn, the Finnish EU Commissioner dealing with the most sensitive portfolio these days – Economic and Monetary Affairs – was promoted today (27 October) to Commission vice president and de-facto economic affairs minister of the eurozone. 

Reacting to the news, a Finnish politician hailed Rehn's nomination, saying "Europe now needs Finnish guts and common sense".

The European Commission announced in a statement that President José Manuel Barroso had decided to reinforce the role of the Commissioner in charge of economic and monetary affairs by elevating the post to that of vice-president, and giving him additional responsibilities. Rehn becomes the eighth vice-president.

Mr Eurogroup? 

"The Vice President – Olli Rehn – will assist the President on all matters relating to the work of the European Council, euro-area summits and economic governance. Consistent with the role of the European Commission as the day-to-day economic manager of the European Union and without prejudice to the President's own role, Vice President Rehn will also exercise the Commission's responsibilities in the external representation of the euro area," the statement reads.

The statement stops short of indicating whether Rehn would replace Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker as eurogroup chief when his term expires next summer.

Rehn's promotion, which was not unexpected, is part of an institutional set-up for the eurozone's economic governance which started at a mid-week eurozone summit, where leaders decided to meet at least twice a year. Leaders of countries that use the currency committed to adopt a "golden rule," enshrining deficit limits in their constitutions.

Eurozone leaders also decided to elect a eurozone president, or 'Mr Euro', a post likely to go to Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

Since he took his new portfolio in the Barroso team, Rehn has been largely responsible for presenting the proposals for a battery of regulations protecting the eurozone from rogue trading and speculation. He oversaw the bailout of Ireland, Portugal and Greece, and was instrumental in putting in place the so-called 'six-pack' measures aimed at mastering the bloc's debt crisis.

No more football matches

In the first Barroso Commission, Rehn was responsible for EU enlargement. He is the architect of the special arrangements for Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007 under an unprecedented monitoring mechanism of their law enforcement systems.

Rehn is a Finnish liberal from the Suomen Keskusta (literally Centre of Finland), the party of the late President and Prime Minister Urho Kekkonen, which today holds 35 seats in the country's 200-member Parliament. Rehn has a close working relationship with the European Parliament's liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt, who has lobbied for more economic governance under Rehn's command.

Ironically, Suomen Keskusta opposes a more federal Europe and has a strong eurosceptic wing. In contrast, Verhofstadt is spearheading federalism in Europe and is counting on the support of politicians such as Rehn.

Under his previous term as Commissioner, Rehn enchanted his hosts in EU candidate countries by playing football in friendly matches. In his youth, he has been a semi-professional football player. Rehn's new capacity does not allow him any longer to resort to such public relation stunts.

Finnish MEP Anneli Jäätteenmäki, who is from Rehn's party, congratulated her compatriot, clearly indicating an intention to see him in three years time at the top of the EU executive.

"Olli Rehn is just the right person for this demanding task. Europe now needs Finnish guts and common sense. Rehn will grow into a strong candidate for the Commission president. I hope that the Finnish government understands this historic opportunity and starts to prepare the ground," she said.

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