BRUSSELS – Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem was appointed the new chairman of euro zone finance ministers on Monday and told his colleagues he wanted to move on from simply fighting crises to focus on longer-term policies to cement fledgling confidence.
Dijsselbloem was confirmed in the post at a meeting of the Eurogroup of 17 euro zone ministers, but did not receive unanimous support, with Spain refusing to give its backing.
Addressing concerns that his appointment could deepen divisions between northern European countries which enjoy higher credit ratings and the south, where countries have to pay more to borrow, Dijsselbloem said fiscal discipline and financial help between euro zone countries were not mutually exclusive.
"We will have to promote a balanced approach, recognizing that both discipline and solidarity are needed," he said.
The Dutch minister, who took his national post three months ago, said the euro zone should continue with reforms and fiscal consolidation that have pleased investors.
"We now need to keep the momentum going, to ensure we retain the confidence we managed to regain in a lasting manner," he told his euro zone colleagues in a letter outlining his priorities. "Our focus needs to shift from crisis management to delivering and implementing sound medium-term policies."
Dijsselbloem said policies in the euro zone, which is in recession, had to be focused on restoring sustainable growth, for which sound fiscal policy was indispensable, but such policies should be individually tailored.
"The speed of fiscal adjustment should continue to be based on country-specific fiscal and macro-financial risks," he said in the letter.
Dijsselbloem said countries should focus on their structural budget balance, which excludes increased spending and lower revenues typical for an economic downturn.
The Netherlands is one of only four euro zone countries to have retained the highest credit rating throughout the crisis and has been one of the hardliners, along with Germany and Finland on the need for tough austerity in countries benefiting from euro zone support - Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain.
Dijsselbloem replaced Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker as chairman of the Eurogroup, the monthly meeting of finance ministers which is a powerful policymaking body key to dealing with the debt crisis.
The appointment to chair the monthly meetings of the finance ministers from the 17 countries sharing the euro is for two-and-a-half years.
(Writing by Jan Strupczewski; editing by Rex Merrifield and Jeremy Gaunt)