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The race for the European Central Bank presidency is the most wide open since the institution’s creation, and it’s far from over.
Eight years ago this month, Mario Draghi was nominated by euro-zone finance ministers to be elevated to the helm of the ECB from the Bank of Italy. This time around, there’s no clear leader among the pack of contenders to replace him when his term ends in October -- nor a definite timetable for choosing a successor soon.
That stems from the unusual coincidence of the presidencies of the central bank and the European Commission coming due concurrently. But it also reflects a stark lack of consensus among governments.
What follows is a collation of Bloomberg stories showcasing how the race has unfolded for one of the biggest economic policy jobs in the world.
Man to Beat
Ever since Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann gently tossed his hat in the ring last year, he became the man to beat for the job -- and its most controversial candidate.
He’s well-qualified, but he also opposed emergency policies such as the crisis tool that stemmed the region’s sovereign debt turmoil after Draghi’s “whatever it takes” speech in 2012. That reputation dented his chances from the start.
The Bundesbank chief also has a rival for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attention, as her political ally Manfred Weber bids to lead the European Commission. Political horse-trading effectively rules out any chance that Germany could get the top jobs at both the commission and the ECB.
The French Contention
The possibility that Weidmann’s chance might be blown put the focus on three potential contenders from France -- despite the nation having previously named an ECB chief in Jean-Claude Trichet -- though International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde has since ruled herself out.
Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau is probably best-placed to win the backing of French President Emmanuel Macron, if he pushes for the role.
That would be too bad for Benoit Coeure, the French member of the ECB’s Executive Board and the person most often cited by central-bank officials as their preferred choice.
Anticipating the need for a compromise if France and Germany can’t agree, the past and present governors of the Bank of Finland made themselves available for the ECB job too.
Finnish elections in April complicated the picture though. It’s not clear whether Erkki Liikanen or Olli Rehn will be the country’s formal candidate.
In such a crowded field, it helps to find a topic to stand out. Rehn has his -- publicly questioning whether the ECB should review how its interpretation of its price-stability mandate.
Twists and Turns
The road to a decision hasn’t been smooth. Speculation that Weber’s political ascendancy would leave Weidmann by the wayside turned out -- so far -- to be unfounded.
Then a veiled swipe at Weidmann’s candidacy by the French finance minister showed tensions mounting. It’s not clear if that view is shared by Macron, whose opinion matters more.
That criticism suggests that if Merkel does want to pursue the ECB job, she might need a backup plan.
The Final Countdown
The complexity of the impending personnel negotiations means there’s a danger that the ECB could be kept waiting until the last minute to find out who will take over in November.
While no-one is the wiser on the likely outcome of the discussions, it’s still possible to make some assumptions. Firstly, the next president is probably a current or former colleague of Draghi.
This will also probably be a missed opportunity to appoint the first-ever female ECB chief. In fact, it currently looks unlikely that a woman will even be considered for the role.
That’s evidence of poor imagination among leaders. The region has several highly qualified female economists serving in positions of responsibility.
There will also be pressure to avoid an exclusive carve-up between the French and the Germans for the ECB and the Commission roles.
And finally, the German finance minister offered some advice last month on the ECB succession: Don’t trust too much of what you read.
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