Dijsselbloem's Departure Will Set Off a Race for EU's Top Jobs

  • Kazimir, Gramegna, Le Maire, among Eurogroup chair hopefuls
  • Eurogroup chairmanship will have domino effect on top EU jobs

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Dutch finance minister and head of the group of euro-area finance ministers, center, speaks to journalists ahead of a Eurogroup meeting of European finance ministers in Luxembourg, on Oct. 9.

Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

As Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s turbulent reign over euro-area finance ministers’ meetings comes to an end, horse-trading for his succession between the bloc’s countries and political groups is about to heat up.

Following a nearly five-year stint at the helm of the Eurogroup, Dijsselbloem’s future has been in flux since March, when his party’s electoral defeat threw the remainder of his tenure into question. Still, helped by lengthy coalition talks in the Hague, the absence of an obvious successor and his widely appreciated deal-brokering skills, the Dutchman has managed to hold on to his post until January when his term expires.

Dijsselbloem and de Guindos, Oct. 9.

Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Elections for his successor will now take place on December 4. While no minister has officially thrown his hat into the ring, speculation is ripe over potential hopefuls, including France’s Bruno Le Maire, Portugal’s Mario Centeno, Spain’s Luis de Guindos, Slovakia’s Peter Kazimir, and Luxembourg’s Pierre Gramegna.

Dijsselbloem’s succession is important not just for the role he holds, but also because of the domino effect it will have on the potential candidates to fill top jobs throughout the European Union as senior posts at the European Central Bank and European Commission free up in the next two years. Top roles at European institutions have been traditionally divided along both geographical and political lines -- between North and South, East and West, big and small countries, and between conservatives, social democrats and liberals.

The complexity of the moving parts is one of the reasons that the bloc’s finance ministers have been keen to kick the Eurogroup chairmanship can down the road, according to officials involved in the talks. 

Spain’s de Guindos, who will be the longest-standing member of the group once Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble leaves, is seen by some of his colleagues as one of the most qualified candidates to succeed Dijsselbloem. That may not be his main goal however, as several EU officials say that he is eyeing the job of ECB Vice President to succeed Vitor Costancio, whose term expires in mid-2018.

If de Guindos assumes the second most senior job at the ECB, this could pave the way for a Northern European to succeed President Mario Draghi when his term expires in 2019, as a repeat of two Southern Europeans running the bloc’s central bank is seen as unlikely. While some countries are wary of this prospect, de Guindos is still seen as the frontrunner for Costancio’s job, in a process due to start in January.

With de Guindos out of the running for the Eurogroup chairmanship, chances of success are higher for hopefuls from the center-left including Slovakia’s Kazimir and Portugal’s Centeno. Even though Kazimir is one of the few candidates from the center-left who meet the fiscal hawkishness profile to be acceptable by the center-right, some EU officials question whether the Slovak finance chief has the clout and diplomatic flair needed to take on Dijsselbloem’s role.

While the president of the Eurogroup has no decision-making powers, Dijsselbloem is seen by most of his colleagues as a seasoned mediator whose tough style when chairing meetings of euro area counterparts helped strike eleventh hour agreements when the bloc faced a series of existential crises. The officials involved in his succession talks said the next chair will have large shoes to fill, representing the currency bloc in international forums and driving the discussion for the deepening of the economic and monetary union.

Conservative Coalition

The process of elimination raises the chances of outsider Gramegna, whose liberal-led government sided with the conservatives in a coalition to split top EU jobs, when the previous coalition between conservatives and socialists fell apart. And while Gramegna may be one Luxembourger too many in a top job following European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, this is also true for Italy’s Pier Carlo Padoan, as Italians already run the ECB and the European Parliament.

A similar issue may hold back Le Maire, as fellow Frenchman Pierre Moscovici holds the economy portfolio at the commission. While EU officials said that this is an issue that could be tackled, Le Maire’s major drawback could be domestic: with so many controversial economic overhauls ahead, it may not be prudent for French President Emmanuel Macron to appoint Le Maire in a job that would shield him from future government reshuffles.

If Le Maire doesn’t become head of the Eurogroup, then France can opt to have one if its officials, Odile Renaud-Basso, run the powerful group of finance ministry deputies that coordinate the bloc’s policies behind the scenes. Renaud-Basso is seen by many of her colleagues as the strongest candidate to succeed Austria’s Thomas Wieser, whose term at the help of the so-called EWG expires in January. 

This working group does much of the heavy lifting, with ministers often asked to rubber stamp what these senior deputies have already agreed to. One official involved in the discussions suggested that having Le Maire as president of the Eurogroup is too much of a price to pay for France, which would then miss the opportunity of Renaud-Basso assuming Wieser’s position.

— With assistance by Lorenzo Totaro, Helene Fouquet, Rainer Buergin, and Stephanie Bodoni

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