Klaus Regling must (or may) have detention.

The term of office of the head of the euro crisis fund ESM officially ends on October 7th.

Since the spring, the euro finance ministers have been looking for a successor to the German, who turns 72 on Monday.

Since then, they have not been able to agree on any of the four candidates so far.

Werner Mussler

Business correspondent in Brussels.

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In the past few months, it has repeatedly been said that Regling cannot remain in office after the end of his term of office because the ESM Treaty excludes this.

This legal argument was the main reason why the ministers were under time pressure: According to this, they should have elected a successor to Regling in their function as ESM governors at their meeting this Monday in Luxembourg at the latest.

But nothing will come of it.

The head of the Eurogroup, Ireland's finance minister Paschal Donohoe, has so far not found a candidate capable of consensus.

Since the withdrawal of the last two first-round applicants, Luxembourg's Pierre Gramegna and Portuguese João Leão, the Irishman has been "testing" different names, an EU official said on Thursday.

No candidate had even remotely had a chance of uniting the necessary 80 percent of the ESM capital shares.

However, one remains confident that a new head of the fund will be found “soon”.

"No important decisions"

The ESM itself is apparently not so optimistic.

There it has now been determined internally that Regling can remain in office for the time being as a manager as long as he does not make any "important decisions".

The legal service of the EU Council of Ministers has approved this regulation, so that the legal objection to Regling's whereabouts does not apply for the time being.

In any case, it is not very likely that the head of the ESM will have to make important decisions in the coming months.

What sounds like a typically small-scale EU personality has a serious background that goes beyond the usual North-South conflicts.

According to several EU diplomats, Germany and France, which each have a blocking minority with a capital ratio of more than 20 percent, could agree on a compromise candidate.

The Italian government, on the other hand, refused to seek a consensus even before the parliamentary elections.

"If Prime Minister Mario Draghi had played along, an agreement could have been reached on Gramegna weeks ago," says Brussels.

With a new government that is not expected to take office before November, the search for candidates will become even more difficult.

Resistance from Rome

The resistance from Rome has less to do with a specific person than with the fact that the Italians are fundamentally critical of the crisis fund.

For years, the Roman parliament has been blocking the ratification of the reformed ESM treaty, which gives the fund more powers to bail out banks.

Italy would have to accommodate that in principle, but ratification is just as unlikely as in Germany, where a judgment by the Federal Constitutional Court is pending.

Italy, which has been particularly hard hit by the Corona crisis, has never considered using the ESM credit lines, which were launched in 2020 specifically to finance healthcare spending in the pandemic.

Even then, Italian politicians questioned the ESM's principle that loans to a euro state are only granted subject to budgetary and economic policy conditions.

The new EU Corona recovery fund, from which Italy benefits particularly strongly, knows this principle only marginally.

Funds are allocated from it – not only as loans, but also as grants – according to significantly softer criteria than the ESM loans.

In Brussels, there are fears that the new Italian government will throw even more strings between the legs of the ESM than the old one.

An EU diplomat points to the general phenomenon that many EU countries - not just Italy - wanted to make the EUR 750 billion corona fund, which had previously been set up for a limited period, a permanent institution.

There is enough financial need, from aid to Ukraine to financing the "Green Deal" to compensating for high energy prices.

The good 400 billion euros that are currently unused in the ESM could be "activated" for these purposes, even if they are not intended for this purpose.

In the short term, this is unrealistic because the ESM, as an intergovernmental institution of the euro states, works very differently from the Corona Fund.

"But constant dripping wears away the stone," says a diplomat.

Politically, it might be easier in the medium term to reallocate ESM funds than to make the Corona Fund a permanent institution.