Let’s start the big European campaign!

A massive change in European power is forthcoming. Several notable functions within the European Union (EU) are going to be appointed in 2019. The European Parliament, European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) will all be dealing with a new chairman soon.

By Michael Kunst, December 21th, 2017

The kick-off of all those changes was Monday 4th December. The Dutchman Jeroen Dijsselbloem was dethroned as chairman of the Eurogroup after he had served a double mandate with a total of five years. If one would ask him, the former PvdA politician would have liked to serve a third term. But after his splurge towards the south part of the Union, the so-called ‘liquor and women’ statement, Dijsselbloem’s popularity went to an all-time low. Admittedly, the Dutchman’s popularity has never reached a reasonable level. His strict policy applications and steadfast attitude during the European debt crisis made Dijsselbloem an ‘evil man’ who was all after the Southern European member states.

His successor is the Portuguese minister of Finance, Mário Centeno. He could reckon on an unanimous decision by the members of the Eurogroup. His term will start on the 12th of January. Centeno will be the first Eurogroup chairman with a Southern European nationality. Besides he is the first to lead the Eurogroup with a big national debt in his pockets. Although this might sound quite negative, the man did respectable work in Portugal. Unemployment has been halved, Portugal’s economy has a 2.6 percent growth this year and the country has been removed from a so-called ‘black list’ for countries with excessive debts. 

The negotiation games
Dutch officials seem to be popular within European institutions. Last week, online magazine Politico Europe published a list of potential successors of Donal Tusk. The Pole currently is chairman of the European Council but will step back in 2019. Politico shows a remarkable high position for Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (Have a view on the full list here: https://www.politico.eu/list/politico-28-2018-ranking/ ) . A couple of days ago, Rutte stated: “I won’t do the job. My ambition is to lead this cabinet during coming years”. In Paris as well as in Berlin, officials are following those rumours with great attention. Both France and Germany would like a European Council chairman who is going to support a tighter immigration policy. During an interview with Politico, Rutte stated that both countries may have wishes, but there is still lots of work in optimally performing the current policies. That probably caused some furrowed brows out there in France and Germany.

It is still just a rumour. But with the appointment of the Portuguese Centeno as chairman of the Eurogroup, one appointment has been done. In spheres of European top officials, it is even said that Southern- and left-wing Europe are on a 1-0 lead. This created a strong negotiation mandate for northern EU members, which usually are more liberal than others. It is exactly this process of negotiating that is part of discussion. This will illustrate those negotiation campaigns: the Luxembourgish contester of Centeno, Pierre Gramegna, came to know during an informal meeting, that his Portuguese opponent could count on French and German support. While attending an African summit, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel would have agreed on the ‘best choice’ for the Eurozone. Not Gramenga but Centeno.

Behind this informal meeting probably hides some old German resentment. When Jean-Claude Juncker was campaigning to become European Commission chairman, Merkel was busy to averting his appointment. While Merkel enjoys a big influence on the Union, she could not avoid Juncker’s appointment. It seems that united Europe changes to an ‘every man for himself’ mode. EU officials say there are unwritten rules to regulate such campaigns. Aren’t unwritten rules the easiest to manipulate?

Gramenga and CentenoPierre Gramenga in a chat with Marío Centeno    © The Jakarta Post

The same negotiation manoeuvres are visible on the way to the ECB chairman and vice chairman appointments, next year. Mario Draghi’s agitated eight-year term will come to an end. Usually, the European Union aims to appoint a chairman and vice chairman of which one is North-European and the other South-European. Germany will start a strong lobby soon. Eight years ago, the Germans missed out on an ECB appointment because of a blunder. Former German candidate Axel Weber started participating in a discussion about former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s critical attitude towards ECB policy. Weber was forced to withdraw his campaign and wasted a ‘shoo-in appointment’, as the expected German appointing was called. The Italian Draghi became ECB president and Portuguese Vítor Constancio escaped with the vice president appointment. South-European dominance in a North-European wanted portfolio.

Dutch tensions for 2019
Appointments within European institutions are definitely not simple formalities or done deals. Every member state has important political and strategical interests in sending a candidate. Just think about the growing partnership between the French and Germans, the chance for smaller member states to emphasize their agendas and all the available prestige. The Netherlands should therefore support a candidature of Mark Rutte to become chairman of the European Council. After Dijsselbloem’s departure, this could be a new chance for the Netherlands. A very important chance with the upcoming departure of Netherlands’ biggest European partner, the United Kingdom. The Dutch government is very busy seeking new coalition partners to compensate its loss and a Dutch appointment within a European institute should not lack.   

Let the great EU leadership contest begin – 4th december, 2017 – www.politico.eu

Eurogroup’s next leader will be Portugal’s Mario Centeno – 4th december, 2017 – www.politico.eu

Mark Rutte: The man in the middle – 7th december, 2017 – www.politico.eu

Hoe ‘dominee Dijsselbloem’ opeens een ‘seksist’ werd – 22 maart 2017 – Trouw.nl

Photo: The Sun (UK) 




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