Germany backs Dutch finance minister for Eurogroup role despite French opposition


Germany last night appeared to throw its weight behind Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem as the new chairman of the influential Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers – despite suggestions from Paris that the appointment should be delayed.

The last-minute tussle came as the outgoing chairman, Luxembourg’s prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, met Mr Dijsselbloem for what had been regarded before the French intervention as an informal handover session prior to Monday’s announcement.

Mr Juncker backed Mr Dijsselbloem yesterday.

Speaking after the meeting with Mr Dijsselbloem in Luxembourg, he said: “The Dutch finance minister presented his candidacy, which is a good one.”

But a smooth transition was thrown into doubt when French finance minister Pierre Moscovici, who had also been seen as a candidate for the job, questioned Mr Dijsselbloem’s “vision” for driving economic growth and promoting banking unity across the 17 countries of the single currency.

“When I vote in my own country I want to know the detail of the candidates’ programmes,” Mr Moscovici said in an interview with a German newspaper on Thursday.

No official process

Potentially much more damaging, however, was Mr Moscovici’s observation that there had been no official application process for a job of such importance. That process could now begin on Monday, with a final decision put off until the Eurogroup’s meeting in February, he suggested.

Mr Dijsselbloem’s position was considerably strengthened last night, however, when a finance ministry spokeswoman in Berlin said Germany remained confident that a decision would be made on Monday – and indicated that the Dutch minister remained the frontrunner. “Our minister – Wolfgang Schäuble – has campaigned since the start of the year for the candidate from the Netherlands, and we are confident there will be agreement on Monday,” said Marianne Kothe, adding that she was “not aware” of any other candidates.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has already indicated she believes the job should go to a country that retains its AAA credit rating, limiting the field to Germany, Finland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

However, the Dutch economy is expected to contract again this year, potentially placing its rating in jeopardy.

France lost its AAA rating in November in a blow regarded as a critique of French president François Hollande’s failure to tackle structural economic problems – damaging Mr Moscovici’s prospects in the process.

In his typically understated manner, Mr Dijsselbloem – a Labour MP and agricultural economist by training, who had not held a cabinet post until four months ago – described Mr Moscovici’s comments as “very reasonable”.

After a week of touring EU capitals, he said he would set out his vision for the euro at the start of Monday’s meeting, observing: “Jean-Claude Juncker also set out his vision prior to being named Eurogroup chairman in 2005.”

Other names mentioned at various stages as potential successors to Mr Juncker have included Mr Schäuble – ruled out because of French concerns that his appointment would concentrate too much power in Berlin – Finnish prime minister Jyrki Katainen, and even Italy’s caretaker prime minister, Mario Monti.