BERLIN German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble declined to rule himself out as a candidate to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as chairman of euro zone finance ministers, in an interview published on Sunday.
Juncker, Luxembourg's prime minister, said he would step down as Eurogroup chief at the end of this year or early next, leaving policymakers just four weeks to find a successor to fill a potential power vacuum. He has headed the group since 2005.
Asked by Bild am Sonntag newspaper whether he or his French counterpart Pierre Moscovici would take over the job, Schaeuble replied, "in any case the new person has to drive European integration forward".
The Eurogroup has taken or prepared key decisions during the bloc's debt crisis over the past three years, such as Greece's debt restructuring, the creation of euro zone emergency funds and bailouts of Ireland and Portugal.
Juncker's mandate was initially set to expire in July, and at that time Schaeuble was widely seen as the front-runner to replace him, possibly as part of a deal with France on a rotating chairmanship which would later pass to Moscovici.
But Juncker was persuaded to stay on a few more months to help manage the region's sovereign debt crisis.
Moscovici said last week it was too early to speculate on his candidacy, but he also did not rule himself out.
"The German government wants the candidate to come from the circle of finance ministers, and we have seen that it has proved very worthwhile when the chairman can mediate between different positions," Schaeuble told Bild am Sonntag.
Diplomats have said the irascible Schaeuble, 70, has alienated colleagues in southern Europe and is not currently seen as a likely successor.
Some have called for a government head, instead of a finance minister, to run the group. For many years, Juncker had both roles in Luxembourg, giving him clout in discussions.
Juncker's double role created a convenient link between the euro zone's 17 finance ministers and its heads of state and government, who ultimately make the most important decisions.
(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; editing by Jane Baird)