BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The chairman of euro zone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, will announce on Dec. 1 the names of those who applied to succeed him, but there are still no clear front-runners for the election that will happen three days later.
Most ministers would like Dijsselbloem, a 51-year-old straight-talking Dutchman, to stay on beyond the end of his second term on Jan. 13, after five years that have won him praise for competence, negotiating skills and balance.
But since losing his job as finance minister after Dutch elections this year, he is no longer eligible.
“As for Dijsselbloem staying in his post -- this would be very difficult from a legal point of view,” one EU official said. “If ever considered seriously, it has now been discarded.”
The group of European Socialist parties says the post should go, once again, to someone from the center-left, with the top candidates Italy’s Pier Carlo Padoan, Portugal’s Mario Centeno and Slovakia’s Peter Kazimir.
Officials said EU Socialists would back Padoan, although his candidacy is weakened by the fact he too may lose his ministerial job after Italian elections early next year and because his country has long been at odds with the EU over fiscal policy and has the second biggest public debt in Europe.
Italians also already occupy several top EU jobs, Mario Draghi as head of the European Central Bank, Antonio Tajani leading the European Parliament and Federica Mogherini as the EU’s foreign policy chief.
Centeno is seen as competent, but a lightweight contributor to Eurogroup discussions and more an academic than a leader. Kazimir has declared he is interested and has been running a tight fiscal ship, but some say he did not use Slovakia’s EU presidency last year to show leadership and others note his English could improve.
Other political groups have been sounding out support for their candidates, although the Socialists insist the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) already holds the vast majority of top EU posts.
The EPP has said it would back Austria’s Joerg Schelling, providing he remains finance minister in a new government being formed.
“If he stays, I would say that he has the best chances of becoming the Eurogroup chair since the EPP has a relative majority in the Eurogroup,” a second euro zone official said.
Latvia’s finance minister, the 36-year-old chess champion and woman grandmaster Dana Reizniece-Ozola, might make a bid, although the extent of support for her is not clear.
Belgian finance minister Johan Van Overtveldt has also been sounded out to see if he would run, officials said.
Among ministers associated with the liberals, Luxembourg’s Pierre Gramegna has said he could run if he got enough support, although some officials said he was handicapped by his views on EU cooperation on tax matters and some “essential” countries would not back him.
France’s Bruno Le Maire appeared to be keen on the job in September and October, but in recent weeks said he had enough work already without EU responsibilities.
Each minister has one vote and a ballot cast by the EU’s smallest member Malta counts as much as Germany‘s.
Additional reporting by Luke Baker in Paris; Editing by Robin Pomeroy