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Slovakia's Kazimir bids to chair euro zone finance ministers
November 6, 2017 / 2:32 PM / 14 days ago

Slovakia's Kazimir bids to chair euro zone finance ministers

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir made a public bid on Monday to succeed Jeroen Dijsselbloem as the next chairman of euro zone finance ministers, a key post in euro zone economic policy-making.

Slovakia's Finance Minister Peter Kazimir attends the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) 2017 Annual Meeting and Business Forum in Nicosia, Cyprus May 10,2017. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Since it was created in 2005, the Eurogroup, which brings together the euro zone’s 19 finance ministers, has had only two presidents: Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker, who served from 2005 to 2013, and former Dutch finance minister Dijsselbloem. Dijsselbloem will vacate the position in mid-January.

“I‘m interested in becoming the chairman of the Eurogroup, but I‘m not a candidate yet,” Kazimir told reporters on entering the monthly ministers’ talks, at which Dijsselbloem is to describe the process of the appointment of his successor.

Formal bids for the job, which involves chairing monthly meetings of ministers and participating in meetings of G7 financial leaders, will start in mid-November and the new head of the Eurogroup will be chosen on Dec. 4.

Unlike in most other EU votes, where the weight of a country’s vote depends on GDP and population, in choosing the Eurogroup president each euro zone country has one vote only, meaning Germany has the same weight as tiny Malta or Luxembourg.

Luxembourg’s Finance Minister Pierre Gramegna also said in October that if other euro zone ministers were to support him, he would be ready to run for the job.

Both he and Kazimir are members of socialist parties, the same as Dijsselbloem, and come from relatively small euro zone countries -- an advantage in the eyes of those who are wary of the dominance of France and Germany in policymaking.

IN SEARCH OF BALANCE

Party affiliation and nationality is often important in the overall division of posts in European Union institutions which seek to strike a balance between representatives of the center left, center-right and liberals and large and small countries.

Euro zone officials say that while not yet formally in the running, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire is very keen for the job and has been lobbying hard to garner support.

He will meet German officials in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss the future of the euro zone and assess his own prospects of the post.

Euro zone officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Germany was cautious about Le Maire, but could trade its backing in return for Paris supporting a German, Jens Weidmann, as the next European Central Bank head after Mario Draghi steps down in 2019.

Kazimir said the candidate could also be chosen according to a new job description, or profile, the ministers might decide on as part of a wider reform of euro zone institutions and deeper integration of the single currency economies.

“There are theoretical possibilities to have a so-called double-hat Eurogroup president or a permanent chair of the Eurogroup or as we’re used to until now, a sitting minister,” Kazimir said.

The double-hat role is promoted by the executive European Commission, because it assumes the Eurogroup chairmanship would be combined with the position of a Commission vice president.

This is anathema to many euro zone countries, Germany in particular, because it would mean more control over national policies and funds by an already powerful EU institution.

The idea of a “permanent chair” involves a five-year term for an official chosen by the finance ministers, but who would not be a sitting finance minister him- or herself, but devote all time to running the Eurogroup.

Reporting By Jan Strupczewski and Francesco Guarascio; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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