BRUSSELS – The next president of the Eurogroup, the monthly meeting of euro zone finance ministers, should be a head of government, Austria's Finance Minister Maria Fekter said on Tuesday.
The committee is one of the most powerful in the EU and has taken or prepared some of the most important decisions in the debt crisis over the past three years.
Jean-Claude Juncker, who has headed the Eurogroup since 2005, confirmed on Monday that he will step down at the end of this year. Juncker is Luxembourg's prime minister as well as its treasury minister, giving him particular clout in discussions.
Asked if she would want Juncker's job, Fekter said:
"That's a position for a head of government and as you know I'm not a head of government. The bosses will decide how they want to handle this."
Juncker's double role created a convenient link between the euro zone's 17 finance ministers and its heads of state and government, who ultimately make the most important decisions. By sitting on the committees for both finance ministers and leaders, Juncker was able to act as a bridge between the two.
The EU treaty does not set any conditions for the head of the Eurogroup, saying only that the person must be chosen by euro zone finance ministers via a majority vote and will serve for a renewable two-and-a-half-year term.
Earlier this year, when it looked as if Juncker might step down, several names were put forward as potential successors, including German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, who is a former finance minister, and Mario Monti, the caretaker prime minister of Italy.
Senior German conservative lawmaker Michael Fuchs said on Tuesday that Schaeuble should be the next head of the Eurogroup because Germany puts up 27 percent of the financing for the euro zone bailout funds.
"The Germans should have someone at the top who can control this," Fuchs, the deputy leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in the Bundestag lower house, told Reuters at her Christian Democrats' party congress in Hanover.
"I would be happy if it were Schaeuble," he said.
The Eurogroup has played a critical role in tackling the debt crisis now in its fourth year, including the setting up of a euro zone bailout fund and the decisions to rescue Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
Financial markets play close attention to comments made by finance ministers ahead of each Eurogroup meeting, and markets and the euro frequently move sharply on the basis of what is agreed or likely to be agreed among the ministers.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Brown in Hannover; Writing by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Sebastian Moffett and Catherine Evans)