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Race to be EIB chief enters final furlong

Race to be EIB chief enters final furlong

by host

Take out your popcorn to find out who will win the first of many EU top jobs soon up for grabs.

Friday is the final day to put up your hand to lead the European Investment Bank. Pending some final vetting, the field of candidates is now clear. The race will intensify in the coming weeks — and is likely to include the usual horse-trading between EU capitals. 

Leading the world’s biggest multilateral financial institution has always been a prestigious post within finance and economic circles and has become more attractive because of its role in rebuilding Ukraine and greening the European economy. The EU is also discussing expanding its remit.

The EU’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager is the most well-known candidate in Brussels. Just her presence on the list signals the body’s increased importance.

Italy has put forward Daniele Franco, a former finance minister. At the last minute, Spain also threw Deputy Prime Minister Nadia Calviño’s name into the mix. In 2020, she narrowly lost a bid to lead the Eurogroup, the gathering of eurozone finance ministers.

Also in the running are two current vice-presidents of the EIB: Teresa Czerwińska, a former finance minister of Poland; and Thomas Östros, a former Swedish minister. 

Once the candidates are vetted, it’s up to the EU’s member countries to pick a candidate, since they are the bank’s shareholders.

Compromise-seeker

The process is not led by the finance ministers in their usual Ecofin grouping — which would give Spain control of the process because they currently hold the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU — but in their role as Board of Governors of the EIB. That gives Belgian Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem, who chairs that board, the role of informal compromise-seeker.

Still, the king-making is mostly done in Paris and Berlin. Vestager’s candidacy took a hit because of her failed bid to install an American as the EU’s top competition economist but it doesn’t mean Paris has already taken a position. France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has already made clear France’s support depends on the candidate supporting nuclear energy. France will also take into account whether Vestager will back other French interests, such as the push to invest more in defense.

Either way, to increase their chances, Sweden and Denmark or Italy and Spain would be better to align themselves behind one candidate for each region, a senior EU official told POLITICO, having been granted anonymity. 

The EU’s finance ministers are now set to agree on a name by consensus at an informal meeting in Spain mid-September, in order to have someone ready for when current President Werner Hoyer leaves by the end of the year — and to avoid this post getting tangled up with the bigger EU job puzzle after the spring European Parliament elections.

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