Portugal's Costa Says Centeno Available to Be Eurogroup Head

Portugal has said its finance minister would be able to take over the Eurogroup, the regular meetings of euro-area finance ministers that were put in the spotlight during the region’s debt crisis.

Speaking on Tuesday, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said there’s likely to be a change in the presidency in the coming months and that Mario Centeno, his finance minister, is available.

The group is currently led by Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who is set to lose his post as Dutch finance minister after his party was routed in elections. That could put his Eurogroup leadership up for grabs earlier than January 2018, when his term was scheduled to end. With Portugal set to lose its seat on the European Central Bank Executive Board next year when Vice President Vitor Constancio’s term ends, the Eurogroup could be offered in exchange.

“Centeno has said that, if the question is raised, he would naturally be available,” Costa told reporters in Vila Real, northern Portugal, after a meeting with Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy. “It’s natural that in the next few months there will be a change in the presidency of the Eurogroup.”

Costa was among those who criticized Dijsselbloem this year after the Dutch politician came under fire for comments about countries that were bailed out. He described the remarks -- made in an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -- as “xenophobic, racist and sexist.”

Costa reaffirmed that if Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos were to run for the Eurogroup presidency again, he would have the Portuguese government’s support. “What’s important is that the next president of the Eurogroup has a vision about the future of the euro area that coincides with the vision that the Portuguese and Spanish governments have demonstrated.”

De Guindos himself said earlier this month that he wasn’t a candidate for the Eurogroup job. He may be more concerned with regaining the ECB post the nation lost in 2012 as he’s regularly lamented Spain’s under-representation at the central bank.

While Rajoy on Tuesday didn’t comment on de Guindos’ intentions, he indicated his nation may back Centeno. Asked whether Spain would also be willing to support the Portuguese minister if he decides to seek the Eurogroup role, Rajoy said: “We always prefer our friends ahead of those we don’t know.”

— With assistance by Ian Wishart, and Zoe Schneeweiss

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