“The post is obviously more enticing than thought: three finance ministers from the euro zone want to take over the chairmanship of the Eurogroup, thus inheriting the outgoing Portuguese Finance Minister, Mr Centeno. The applications were made by the Spanish Minister for Economic Affairs, Nadia Calvico, the Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohe and his Luxembourg counterpart Pierre Gramegna.
It has long been no secret that all three politicians are interested in the prominent post. But whether all three would really throw themselves into the race for the post; that was unclear until the very end. After all, an embarrassing defeat in the board’s election could weaken politicians not only at EU level, but also in their home countries.
And so the three did not announce their candidacy until late Thursday afternoon; shortly before the end of the registration period. This has been preceded by an intense pre-feeling in the past weeks and until the very end.
Calvi’o would be the first woman at the helm
Each of the three had extensively tested the electoral chances in advance with preliminary discussions and deliberately scattered rumours. In the Eurogroup election on 9 July, candidates must get at least ten of the 19 finance ministers from the euro zone behind them to win.
Spain’s Economy Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Nadia Calvico is considered the favourite. The 51-year-old would be the first woman to head the influential body, which currently includes only men.
In recent months, two top posts in Europe’s economic policy have already gone to women: Christine Lagarde has been President of the European Central Bank ECB since November and Ursula von der Leyen has been President of the European Commission since December.
The graduate economist Calvi so is no stranger to Brussels: the civil servant has worked for many years in high positions in the European Commission: first as Deputy Director-General for Competition, then the Internal Market and finally for Finance.
Before returning to Madrid, the mother-of-four was Director-General for the EU budget under German Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger.
In case of doubt, however, the election is less about the support from the Brussels bureaucracy, and too close to the apparatus there could even be a blemish. The sympathies of the colleagues are decisive, and Calviso can obviously score points in this.
The Spaniard is considered the favourite of Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD), who apparently thinks a lot about the Spanish Social Democrat. This can be decisive, because Germany has considerable weight in the body.
The fact that the counterparts from Berlin and Madrid understand each other well has been spreading for weeks by supporters of the Calviso candidacy. She also seems to be getting along well with the French Minister for Economic Affairs and Finance, Bruno Le Maire.
Moreover, the Spaniard’s candidacy fits well into the finely balanced balance of power in Brussels: like the outgoing Eurogroup leader Centeno, she comes from a southern European country, and, like the Portuguese politician, she is a member of a social democratic party.
So the current status quo would not change. However, last year, one of the EU’s top posts went to a Spaniard when Josep Borrell became the EU’s foreign envoy.
She also has enough political and EU experience to know that she cannot rely on her favourite role. Especially since the other two candidates also have fans in european capitals – perhaps even more than they do.
Paschal Donohoe, for example, who threw his hat into the ring on Thursday afternoon in second place: the Irish finance minister would be the counterpart to Calviso: he comes from northern Europe, from an economically liberal Anglo-Saxon country, and is a bourgeois-conservative politician.
The political colouring could decide the 45-year-old’s choice, as the 19-member Eurogroup includes seven ministers from the bourgeois-conservative party family. Moreover, the father-of-two could potentially win the votes of two other right-wing colleagues.
The Irishman aggressively markets himself as a politician who can find compromises: “I will be a bridge builder between North and South, East and West, those who belong to them, who do not belong to them, and between smaller and larger members. “It’s a good thing,” the official letter for his candidacy reads.
Gramegna was the last to throw his hat into the ring
The negotiating style of Donohoe, who in recent years has been, among other things, Minister of Transport and Europe, is more like that of the outgoing Centeno. After long nights of negotiations, however, he was repeatedly criticized for his uncourageous style.
Donohoe is thus positioning itself a bit as a counter-draft to Calviso: she is known for her lively style of communication and discussion, but with her open and tangible nature in the Eurogroup, she has not only made friends – most recently again in the discussions on the multibillion-dollar EU economic recovery programme in the Corona crisis. Incidentally, the measures will no longer be negotiated by the Eurogroup because they will become part of the budget negotiations.
Pierre Gramegna, Luxembourg’s finance minister, announced his candidacy on Thursday. Unlike the other candidates whose countries needed European help in the financial and economic crisis and the euro debt crisis, he comes from a fiscally sound country in the heart of Europe.
Luxembourg and Ireland, however, have in common that they attract companies, and especially large US tech companies, with low taxes, among other things – a practice that bothers many of their European counterparts. Gramegna is aware of these feelings, and so the 62-year-old Liberal advertises in his official candidacy not only with his many years of experience, but also with the fact that he, as finance minister, has worked for greater transparency in Luxembourg’s tax law.
There had been speculation in Brussels as to whether Donohoe and Gramegna would both dare to run, as they are fighting for the votes of similar supporters, such as those countries that oppose deeper integration of the euro zone, as Calviso is calling for. Gramegna’s application letter shows how much the two candidates could chase each other’s votes.
As in Donohe’s candidacy, it says almost word-for-word: “As president of the Eurogroup, I would seek consensus and try to build bridges between north and south, east and west, treating small and large member states equally fairly.”
This, too, is an election that the finance ministers will face on 9 July: do they want quieter meetings in the future, but where negotiations could take a little longer – or do they want more life in the stall? However, given the billions in the rounds, this issue is likely to be secondary.