Portugal's Mário Centeno Chosen to Lead Eurozone Finance Ministers

By Todd Buell in Brussels and Jeannette Neumann in Madrid Features Dow Jones Newswires

European finance officials Monday chose Portugal's Finance Minister Mário Centeno to lead the college of finance ministers that steers policy in the eurozone.

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Mr. Centeno was elected by his peers to lead the key body, known as the Eurogroup. He succeeds former Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem at the helm of the group, which plays an essential role in important eurozone policy discussions, such as those pertaining to Greece's bailout.

"#Eurogroup just elected Mário Centeno, Minister of Finance of Portugal, as its new President. He will take office on 13 January 2018," the press office of the European Council said on Twitter Monday.

Mr. Centeno has been Portugal's finance minister since Nov. 2015, when Socialist leader António Costa was appointed prime minister. Since then, the 50-year-old Mr. Centeno has helped to oversee Portugal's continued recovery from a crisis-era bailout. Unemployment has fallen and once-teetering banks in Portugal, a country of 10.3 million inhabitants, have generally stabilized. Credit-rating firm Standard & Poor's raised Portugal's debt to investment grade from junk in mid-September.

Mr. Centeno was an economist at Portugal's central bank from 2000 to 2004, when he was appointed deputy director of the bank's economic studies department, a post he held until 2013. He then served as an adviser to the Bank of Portugal's board of directors. From 2004 to 2013, he was a member of the European Commission's economic policy committee, according to his official biography.

Mr. Centeno has a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, which he completed in 2000, as well as a Master of Science in economics from the Cambridge, Mass.-based school.

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Speaking ahead of the decision, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici said that he saw three key priority areas for the new Eurogroup head. These were "seizing the opportunity of the strong recovery" in the eurozone to deepen integration of the bloc; the conclusion of Greece's bailout program next summer; and improving the democratic accountability of the Eurogroup. "This is absolutely crucial to me," said the French commissioner.

Mr. Centeno's appointment is also noteworthy because earlier this year Portugal's Prime Minister called for Mr. Dijsselbloem to resign after reported comments that were viewed as offensive to southern Europeans. The Dutchman told a German newspaper that "during the eurozone crisis, northern euro-countries had shown solidarity with countries affected by the crisis." But he added that those asking for aid had obligations. "I can't spend all my money on schnapps and women and then ask you for your help."

Mr. Dijsselbloem said at the time that he regretted his message was misunderstood and that it may have offended people.

--Patricia Kowsmann in Frankfurt contributed to this article.

Write to Todd Buell at todd.buell@wsj.com and Jeannette Neumann at jeannette.neumann@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 04, 2017 12:27 ET (17:27 GMT)