There are few places where the power struggle, the equilibrium and the enormous philosophical differences between the north and the south are as clear as within the Eurogroup. Some voices call into question these days in Brussels the usefulness of a strange , unique organization that has lost the agility and primacy that it had in the worst years of the crisis with the stabilization of the economic situation.
The recent Eurogroups have become more boring, slow and by almost always ending with an inclusive session, with non-euro countries, they are a less practical forum. But at the same time, the movements to direct and control the agenda are as intense as ever.
The Spanish Minister and Vice President, Nadia Calviño, is now in all pools to succeed the Portuguese Mario Centeno, if he finally decides to take a drastic turn in his life. No one in Portugal knows, perhaps not even Rye himself, if he will remain minister this spring. But if it ceases to be, it would not make sense to continue leading the Eurogroup. It has already happened with his predecessor, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, and a very uncomfortable situation was generated when he lost his job with a change of government in Holland.
The Portuguese is discreet. "The until when, in our lives and in particular in the political function, it is an exercise of divination to which no one should devote himself," he replied recently cryptically when asked about his future.
"At the end of the semester we will see how things are going, there is no decision," he said in an interview at the Davos Forum. From Lisbon they explain that there is no hurry, and that there will probably be no decision before April, when I speak calmly with Prime Minister Antonio Costa. Until then, at least formally, Calviño remains waiting, although there are already informal and discreet explorations in each session, such as the one taking place this Monday in Brussels.
The Eurogroup has been an aspiration of Spain for a long time. Luis de Guindos tried to reach the presidency with an impossible candidacy in July 2015, even forcing a vote that nobody wanted and that resulted in a clear and bitter defeat. Now, several factors line up in favor of Calviño, but not all.
The balance of political families in the EU, which emerged from an eternal Summit in June last year, left the presidency of the Commission (Ursula von der Leyen), of the Liberals the European Council (Charles Michel) and of the Socialists of Parliament (David Sassoli) and the figure of the high representative for Foreign Policy.
But it is that in the last legislature, the presidents of the three great institutions were all popular. That is why the Socialists are in no way willing to give up the balance now by giving up the post of Rye, the only one of importance they had for years.
That benefits the Spanish, since there are not so many ministers of the branch in her family, there are those who have a low profile, she has the at least formal sympathy of the German Scholz (who is from the SPD and not from the Merkel CSU) and there are elections soon that could rule out lesser-known candidates from Slovakia or Slovenia, for example. In addition, it is from the south and there has never been a woman at the head of the entity. Therefore, European sources consider it the natural successor if Rye chooses to withdraw.
At the same time, the socialist family came out quite scalded with Pedro Sánchez from that last cast. They consider that they held the presidency of the Commission, with Dutch candidate Frans Timmermans, and that their chief negotiator, Sanchez, did not know or did not want to play the cards well in the end, securing the post of Josep Borrell for Spain. That is why, in the next trick, Spain underpin another position would be difficult to digest in some parties and countries.
"Calviño is a great candidate, has a voice, credibility and knows the institutions, but a Spanish after a Portuguese and with an Italian Economic Commissioner, is uncomfortable for some delegations, " explains a diplomatic source. "At another time it could be, but knowing its position on the Banking Union, on changes in fiscal rules or an anti-cyclical crisis absorption mechanism can have serious opposition from the Hanseatics," says an economic source from a Mediterranean country.
In fact, there is an additional element that makes precisely the geographical origin of the next president of the Eurogroup has special relevance. Last week, the Eurogroup Working Group (EWG), the instrument formed by Treasury secretaries and officials preparing the meetings of ministers, chose the Finnish Tuomas Saarenheimo as president, after the unexpected departure of the Dutchman Hans Vijlbrief, who had been confirmed for a new term recently.
The Finnish replaces a Dutchman who had replaced the Austrian Thomas Wieser, the most important and unknown figure in the management of European crises last decade. Three similar profiles, of very prepared people, very efficient but with another element in common: being part of countries that defend orthodoxy and deservedly known as 'hawks' in fiscal or budgetary matters.
"The play is very clear. It was not enough to have an Austrian and a Dutchman in difficult times; when the thing was complicated they accepted a Portuguese chief, but putting another Dutchman even harder to closely monitor and control the agenda, "notes a community source.
Four sources of the Council or the Eurogroup define Saarenheimo as someone "very smart", "very prepared", "very solid and that the whole framework, the legal bases, the technical things are known perfectly. Perhaps in the crisis it was more hawk and aggressive but now he is a flexible person with the ability to reach agreements, "they explain, pointing out that in the last six months of 2019, when his country temporarily presided over the EU, he was especially skilled at meeting points on the most important issues. delicate. "He is an honest book broker," says a Hanseatic League diplomat, referring to the always desired figure in Brussels as an honest and helpful mediator and interlocutor.
But the balance of forces does not escape either. It is not that Rye has a squire considered a supporter of rigor, it is that he is surrounded by them. When he sits at the meetings, he has the head of the Euroworking Group on one side, and on the other the German Karsten Pillath, general director of Economic Affairs and Competitiveness in the General Secretariat of the Council. The same nationality of its equivalent in the general secretariat of the Commission. The formula was used on a smaller scale already in the Commission, giving Pierre Moscovici Economía under the supervision of the conservative Latvian Valdis Dombrovskis between 2014 and 2019 and repeating with Italian Gentiloni now.
Not everything is black or white, immovable. There are clichés that often do not correspond to reality. In many areas of union Banking Spain has found better allies in Berlin than in Rome, for example. But the scheme repeats itself: if there is one from the south in the things of money, there are two from the north supervising.
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