Spanish minister favourite to lead Eurogroup


Brussels (AFP)

Three candidates are in the running to lead the Eurogroup panel of eurozone finance ministers, a once powerful gathering that has lost lustre since the debt crisis, it was announced Thursday.

Whoever takes on the role will face the towering challenge of dealing with the economic aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, which has plunged Europe into its deepest recession since World War II.

A few hours before candidacies closed on Thursday, Spanish Economy Minister Nadia Calvino was seen as the favourite and will face two challengers.

Ireland's Paschal Donohoe and Luxembourg's Pierre Gramegna are also in the running, with the winner voted by simple majority by the eurozone's 19 finance ministers on July 9.

The new head of the Eurogroup will replace Mario Centeno, Portugal's soft-spoken finance minister who is stepping down after just two-and-a-half years.

During his leadership, the Eurogroup saw its importance diminish from the headline-grabbing days of the debt crisis under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxembourg and Jeroen Dijsselbloem from the Netherlands.

In theory, the head of the Eurogroup has a central role: he or she chairs the monthly meetings of the finance ministers of the countries that have adopted the single currency.

The main objective of the meeting is to better coordinate national economic policies and apply pressure on countries to keep their budgets in order.

In this capacity, they must be able to strike a compromise between the rich members in the north, who insist on budgetary discipline, and those in the south, who are seen as more lax.

The north is expected to resist Calvino's candidacy and the opinion of Germany, Europe's biggest economy, will be key.

"Calvino is favourite, but she will never have a big majority," predicted one diplomat.

Calvino joined Spain's socialist government in June 2018, coming from the European Commission in Brussels where she had worked for 12 years.

Known as a technocrat, Calvino said she hoped to continue to work towards "a strong and prosperous eurozone for the benefit of the citizens of Europe."

Crucially, Ireland's Donohoe is from the centre-right European People's Party along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the biggest group in the European Parliament is eager to retake the Eurogroup from the social Democrats.

Luxembourg's Pierre Gramegna, a centrist, is a long serving finance minister who diplomats said could serve as a bridge builder.