Spanish minister faces resistance to being appointed to ECB role

Economy minister facing opposition from European Parliament for vice president post

Spanish economy minister Luis de Guindos, the longtime frontrunner to become the next vice president of the European Central Bank, is facing some resistance to his candidacy in the European Parliament.

Members of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee who come from three of the legislature's eight political groupings say they have reservations about the 58-year-old Spaniard, arguing that he's more of a politician than a central banker and lacks the credentials to help pilot Europe's most powerful economic institution. The panel can delay appointments, though not block them.

"It wouldn't be acceptable if a minister moved directly from the Eurogroup to the vice presidency of the ECB," said Sven Giegold, an European Union lawmaker from Germany who sits on the committee. "Everyone in the committee has the independence of the ECB very much at heart."

Mr Giegold is a member of the Greens. His sentiment was echoed by a member of the rival Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy bloc, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.


Irish Competition

Spain has said it wants to regain a seat on the ECB's six-member Executive Board after a six-year absence, and Guindos was expected to be the nation's candidate. His position was weakened earlier this week when Ireland said it would nominate its central-bank governor, Philip Lane.

"The nomination of Philip Lane is good news," said committee member Pervenche Beres, who used to chair the panel and is part of the Socialist bloc in parliament. "He's very solid and he is a professional. He has an excellent reputation as an economist."

Governor Lane (48) heads up the European Systemic Risk Board's task force on safe assets. He received a PhD in economics from Harvard University in 1995 and was assistant professor of economics and international affairs at Columbia University from 1995 to 1997 before returning to Dublin.

While European governments make the appointment to the ECB board, the parliamentary committee can slow the process and seek to embarrass leaders if they fail to put forward a suitable candidate. The appointment of Luxembourg's Yves Mersch was stalled for months in 2012 over a lack of female contenders.

Nominations for the job must be submitted by the end of February 7th. The parliamentary committee plans an informal hearing behind closed doors in mid February before euro-area finance ministers make a selection at their February 19th meeting. That candidate then goes on to face public questions from the committee.

Mr Guindos can point to his record as minister. When he took office in 2011, Spain was a threat to the survival of the euro, its banking system crumbling from the impact of a real-estate meltdown. Now the economy is roaring along with growth of 3 percent a year -- faster than both France and Germany.

Lack of Women

Lawmakers have said they would like the Eurogroup to submit a shortlist of three - including women. There is only one woman, Germany's Sabine Lautenschlaeger, on the executive board at the moment and both politicians and policy makers have voiced concerns at the imbalance.

And gender balance is an issue that isn’t going away. The vice presidency slot is the first of four ECB board seats that will be up for grabs in the next two years -- including the presidency.

“If there is a competent woman candidate she will have a competitive advantage, for sure,” Mr Beres said. “But being a woman is not enough to get you one of these positions.”

Meanwhile, the ECB itself is trying to stay above the fray. Asked about Prof Lane's prospects by RTÉ this week, executive board member Benoit Coeure, skirted the issue.

"Governor Lane, he's an outstanding economist. He's a good colleague on the Governing Council of the ECB. Now, as you know, the ECB has a very limited role in that process. We'll give an opinion at a later stage and it's really a political discussion; that's all what I can say."

- Bloomberg