LISBON (Reuters) - Portuguese finance minister Mario Centeno said on Thursday he felt he had a good chance of becoming the head of the Eurogroup after constructive talks with France and Germany and gaining support from Europe’s social democrats.
Some observers have said, however, that Centeno’s candidacy would be undermined by the fact that Portugal had only exited its three-year bailout in 2014. Centeno said that should not reduce his chances as Portugal’s Socialist government had “persistently proven the credibility of its public accounts, stabilized the financial system and met all budget targets.”
The Eurogroup brings together the euro zone’s 19 finance ministers. Its leader hosts monthly meetings of ministers and chairs the board of governors of the euro zone bailout fund which saved Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus during Europe’s debt crisis.
Portugal’s budget deficit is set to reach its lowest level in the country’s democratic history this year.
Finance ministers from Latvia, Luxembourg and Slovakia also submitted their applications for the job on Thursday. The winner will be decided on a majority vote of euro zone member countries on Monday.
“We think there are possibilities for that (my election) to occur,” he told Reuters in an interview after applying for the position earlier on Thursday. “I would not have applied if the talks did not bring about support for the platform in which I am a candidate.”
“Spain and Italy already revealed their support. There were quite constructive talks with Germany and France,” he said.
European socialists have called for the job to remain with a socialist because the European centre-right already has many other top EU jobs. Slovakian Finance Minister Peter Kazimir, also a socialist, has run a tight fiscal ship at home and has been hawkish on bailouts for Greece.
Some officials say that among socialist candidates he would have the backing of Germany and the Netherlands to succeed Dutchman Jeroen Dijsselbloem when he steps down on Jan. 13.
Critics of his candidacy, however, say that he has not taken the opportunity of Slovakia’s European Union presidency to drive his economic agenda harder and show leadership.
Centeno said that, if elected to lead the Eurogroup, it would be “important to broaden and refresh its agenda.”
“Certainly many of the ideas put forward by (French President Emmanuel) Macron on strengthening euro zone governance are interesting,” Centeno said, referring to proposals of a common European budget and finance minister.
Centeno, who has a PhD from Harvard, has enacted policies at home which reversed some austerity policies from the debt crisis, such as raising public pensions and wages to increase households’ disposable income. But he has done so with a firm grip on the purse strings, insisting that European budget rules must be respected.
The reward has been the fastest economic growth in at least a decade this year.
Reporting By Andrei Khalip and Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Axel Bugge and Ralph Boulton