AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The race for the Eurogroup presidency kicked off on Friday with the Netherlands’ Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem announcing he will seek a second term and Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos saying he will mount a challenge.
The position, once little regarded, has grown in importance during Europe’s debt crisis. The Eurogroup is the name given to meetings of all finance ministers of countries using the euro.
Dijsselbloem has been the direct representative of euro zone governments in negotiations with Greece over the bailout package it needs to avoid a default.
The Dutch minister, whose term expires July 21, is widely seen as the favourite for the job, though de Guindos has recently been upbeat about his chances in public appearances. [ID: nL5N0YR1YA]
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in August 2014 she would support de Guindos’s candidacy after Dijsselbloem’s term expired, and French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said in May that de Guindos would make a good president — but stopped short of formally backing him.
Dijsselbloem, after a somewhat shaky start in 2013, has so far won accolades for his handling of the Greece crisis, though the end is not yet known.
“I see sufficient support to put forward my candidacy with confidence,” Dijsselbloem told reporters on Friday after a weekly cabinet meeting in The Hague.
Dijsselbloem travelled to Berlin, Paris and Rome last month to rally support for his candidacy.
Germany’s position may be pivotal. Merkel has not recently backed either candidate in public, and the Dutch have been unwavering supporters of German-led austerity policies throughout the crisis.
Another consideration for both candidates suitability is their uncertain domestic positions. De Guindos could lose his job in Spain after elections in November, but Dijsselbloem’s future is equally uncertain.
The Netherlands’ governing coalition is shaky and an opinion poll released over the weekend showed Dijsselbloem’s Labour party at an all-time low in popularity, with just 6 percent of the electorate saying they would vote for Labour if elections were held today.
In theory either candidate could continue to lead the Eurogroup after falling from power at home, but Dijsselbloem has himself said it only makes sense for a sitting finance minister from one of the Eurozone members to hold the job.
There are few requirements to become Eurogroup president, other than receiving the support of a majority of its 19 members. The post, which grew out of a rotating chairmanship of Eurogroup meetings and was only formalised in 2009, has so far only been held by sitting finance ministers — first Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg and now Dijsselbloem.
Applications for the 2-1/2 year term are due next week, with the new chairman serving from July.
Reporting By Toby Sterling and Julien Toyer; Editing by Angus MacSwan