Dutch finance minister open to heading Eurogroup

THE HAGUE Sat Dec 15, 2012 3:50am IST

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem would be willing to take over as head of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers, his office said on Friday, after a clutch of reports linked him to the job.

The minister himself avoided a detailed discussion of his prospects of taking over from Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker in what has been a key role in the battle with Europe's debt crisis.

But he did admit that his name was one of many being touted for the post.

"I will answer this question once it is really posed to me, meaning by the people who decide about it, the Eurogroup," Dijsselbloem told reporters.

Several European Union diplomats said Dijsselbloem's name was discussed during a summit on Thursday and Friday, and there appeared to be widespread support for his candidacy, but leaders intended to leave it up to finance ministers to decide next month.

"Dijsselbloem has impressed in just a few weeks in the job," the Europe minister of one Eurozone country told Reuters.

"He's open-minded, straight-talking and has the languages," the minister added, referring to Dijsselbloem's flawless English. "There's a lot of confidence in him."

SERIOUS CANDIDATE

Speaking to Dutch radio station BNR late on Thursday, Dijsselbloem said: "I believe that everyone has been mentioned (as a candidate). I have also seen my name on those lists.

"We'll just wait and see. You have to be more worried if your name is not on the list than when it is," he said, laughing.

If Dijsselbloem took the job, he would remain Dutch finance minister, his spokeswoman said, but she added that his candidacy was currently not under discussion.

Dutch public broadcaster NOS had reported late on Thursday that Dijsselbloem was considered a serious candidate to take over as chairman of the group.

Germany, the largest euro zone economy, wants a candidate from a triple-A rated economy, NOS said.

Only Germany, Finland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in the euro zone still have the highest credit rating from the major rating agencies.

Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainenis has also been touted as a candidate. Others include French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, whose country has been downgraded, and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, a hardliner on austerity.

"It would be good if it was a solid chairman from a solid country. That's what makes the Netherlands feel comfortable," Dijsselbloem told reporters on Friday when asked about the post.

However, the risk of the Netherlands losing its triple-A status have increased. Its economy is expected to contract next year while the budget deficit may exceed the EU's 3 percent ceiling, the central bank said this week.

Dijsselbloem said the government would wait for the CPB, the government forecasting agency, to publish its updated economic forecasts in February or March before deciding whether new budget cuts were needed to meet the EU's deficit targets.

"Then we'll know how far we are on track for 2013 and then we'll decide if extra measures are necessary," Dijsselbloem said.

Juncker, 57, who has held the Eurogroup job since 2005 and has been a leading protagonist in Europe's monetary union ever since the 1991 Maastricht treaty, said last week he would step down as Eurogroup chief at the end of the year or early next year - although it is not the first time he has said his term in the job was at an end.

Dijsselbloem, 46, was appointed finance minister last month after Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal party won a general election in September and formed a coalition with the Labour party. He has been a Labour member of parliament for most of the past 12 years.

(Additional reporting by Luke Baker; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Myra MacDonald)

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