Rehn in self-imposed exile from European Commission

Commissioner a notable absentee at Portugal’s bailout graduation

EU commissioner  Olli Rehn: Obliged to take “electoral leave”. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

EU commissioner Olli Rehn: Obliged to take “electoral leave”. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

As Portugal followed Ireland and Spain, and became the third country to hail the successful completion of its bailout programme, one familiar figure on the euro zone scene was notably absent in Brussels.

EU commissioner Olli Rehn, who has presided over the EU’s economic policy for five years, is in self-imposed exile from the European Commission. As one of six commissioners running for the European Parliament elections, he is obliged to take “electoral leave” in the run-up to the elections.

In his place, Estonian commissioner for transport Siim Kallas presented yesterday’s Spring Economic Forecast in Brussels and attended the eurogroup meeting. Thus the man who was one of the main architects of the EU-IMF bailouts was not present to see one of its promising pupils graduate.

Rehn has swapped the serious surrounding of the European Commission and Council buildings in Brussels for the campaign trail. He is now more likely to be seen donning an anorak and microphone in shopping centres across Helsinki as he tries to convince Finnish voters that he is the man to represent them in the European Parliament.

Not that they will need much persuading – Rehn is expected to poll well. While his policy of strict fiscal austerity may have alienated many so-called peripheral euro zone countries, his tough stance is popular in triple A-rated Finland.

All eyes will now be on who will be his successor when the 28 new commissioners are appointed later this year after May’s elections. Rehn was widely regarded as a strong performer – he holds a doctorate in international political economy from Oxford – despite major questions about the commission’s policy of strict fiscal consolidation during the euro zone crisis.

Britain is vying for a financial services or economics portfolio in the next commission, but is unlikely to secure it given its constant battle with Brussels over financial legislation such as bankers’ pay, regulation and the Financial Transactions Tax. One of the triple-A trio of Germany, the Netherlands and Finland would appeal to austerity hawks , while former French finance minister Pierre Moscovici is also believed to be interested.

What is clear is that whoever succeeds Rehn in assuming responsibility for economic governance in the European Union, he or she will play a vital role in Europe’s economic performance over the next five years.

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