Bank of Italy Governor Mario Draghi’s campaign to become European Central Bank head picked up speed with an endorsement by a top-selling German tabloid that has close ties to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.
Bild-Zeitung published a photomontage of Draghi wearing a Prussian spiked helmet today, saying the race for the ECB presidency “is decided,” and Draghi is German-enough for Merkel to support him.
Backing by Germany’s most-read newspaper, which last year lampooned the idea of an Italian managing Europe’s money and channeled public outrage over aiding debt-laden Greece, will help prepare grass-roots opinion for a southern European atop the 17-nation central bank, said Hans-Juergen Hoffmann, head of the Psephos polling company.
“I think the risk for Merkel of supporting Draghi is limited and can be managed if the public relations work for the decision is done efficiently,” Hoffmann said in a telephone interview. “It’s absolutely conceivable” that the Bild report is part of that management.
Merkel wants to support the “most German among the remaining candidates” to succeed ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet, Bild said, citing Chancellery officials it didn’t name. Bild praised Draghi as “rather German, even a true Prussian.”
‘No New Development’
Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said today there’s “no new development,” responding to a question about the Bild report. The government will announce whom it supports “in a timely fashion” before a European Union summit meeting in June, he told reporters in Berlin.
Draghi has the support of Italy, France and Spain, making Merkel alone among the leaders of the euro area’s four biggest countries in not coming out for him. Leaders from smaller countries including Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs meetings of euro area finance ministers, have also indicated their support.
Trichet’s eight-year term ends in October, creating an opening at the top of the world’s second most powerful central bank after the U.S. Federal Reserve.
In all, six countries have publicly endorsed Draghi and none have opposed him. He became the frontrunner when Germany’s contender, Axel Weber, pulled out in February and quit as head of the German Bundesbank to return to academic life.
Draghi is the only declared candidate so far. National central bankers including Yves Mersch of Luxembourg and Erkki Liikanen of Finland have been mooted as possible compromise choices by the media.
While Germany alone cannot dictate who wins the post, its status as Europe’s largest economy and biggest guarantor of aid packages to Greece, Ireland and soon Portugal makes it the dominant voice in the appointment.
Bailout politics restrict Germany’s room for maneuver, with resentment at propping up deficit-prone governments translating into regional electoral defeats for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its allies.
“Of course there are fears, often the result of national prejudices, that a southern European may conduct a euro policy that doesn’t have stability as the main criterion,” said Hoffmann. “The public at large doesn’t have a firm opinion yet, so the government has to do some advertising now.”
Draghi, 63, who was born in Rome, is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained economist with stints at the World Bank and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. on his resume.
Bild lauded Draghi as stern, “with his feet on the ground,” purposeful, loyal and “sharp edged” -- virtues that Germans, as devotees of economic stability, see in themselves.
“That’s the way!” said Bild.
A year ago, the newspaper mocked the idea of putting the euro in the hands of someone from Italy, “the country of the old lira, the currency with all those insane zeros.”
Bild’s story about Draghi today is so enthusiastic that it proposed granting him “honorary German citizenship.”