Madrid, Berlin: European Union leaders could push their decision on the next European Central Bank president into July or later as they instead focus on appointing the bloc’s top political positions.
The negotiations over who gets the most powerful posts are especially tricky as they’ve never come up at the same time before. With a June summit just two weeks away, the emphasis appears to be on reaching a deal over the European Commission presidency, according to EU officials.
Delaying the naming of a successor to ECB President Mario Draghi would go some way to disentangling the appointment of an independent central banker from the political horse-trading. The risk is that it unsettles investors over the summer when market liquidity is thin and global economic risks are mounting.
Draghi’s term ends on October 31 and the front-runners to replace him have widely differing views on how much stimulus the Eurozone needs. If leaders don’t take a decision this month, the talks are likely to be punted to finance ministers who meet on July 8-9. They could ease investors’ nerves by coming up with a single nominee for the ECB presidency, with leaders calling an extraordinary summit to approve it.
After that though, the summer break means the next opportunity is likely to be a summit in mid-October, just two weeks before Draghi leaves.
The officials noted that national political considerations will still influence the eventual choice with France and Germany, as the EU’s biggest economies, each staking a claim to one of the positions. The ECB has never had a German president and there is growing internal pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to change that.
The EU has charged six negotiators with discussing the posts, and they’ll meet for dinner in Brussels on Friday. Leaders will hold a summit on June 20, where the political jobs — primarily a successor to Jean-Claude Juncker as commission president and Donald Tusk as president of the council of leaders — could be unveiled.
Germany is pushing for Manfred Weber to be head of the commission, while France is backing Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier. The German and French contenders for the ECB have taken radically different stances over monetary policy, making the decision critical for investors trying to judge when interest rates will start to rise — or if more stimulus might be added.
Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann has been a frequent critic of the ECB’s bond-buying programmes, which could deny him the support of southern European governments. Two officials said there is resistance to him getting the job.
One official said it’s up to France and Germany to reach agreement over the next two to three weeks, and while France isn’t fundamentally opposed to a German at the helm of the ECB, it doesn’t want Weidmann in that post.
Two officials said the race is basically between those two nations, with one seeing only a 20 per cent chance of a compromise candidate from a third country. Two officials named the Netherlands as an option in that case — Dutch central bank Governor Klaas Knot is also seen as interested in the job. Finnish Governor Olli Rehn and his predecessor Erkki Liikanen have also signalled a willingness.