Will the Eurogroup Chairman build a bridge between northern and southern Europe?

, by Alessio Pisanò

Will the Eurogroup Chairman build a bridge between northern and southern Europe?

Earlier this week, eurozone finance ministers elected Jeroen Dijsselbloem, an agricultural economist and the incumbent Dutch Finance Minister, as the Eurogroup’s new Chairman. He succeeds Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, after eight years. It goes without saying that the Eurogroup is playing a crucial role in the debt crisis and the role Mr Dijsselbloem was appointed for is fundamental for the recovery of the all European Union.

European finance ministers say they have been impressed with Mr. Dijsselbloem’s debut on the international stage. But he is something of an unknown quantity, and some leaders are worried about his inexperience. Others said the record of more seasoned officials has hardly been exemplary. “This talk about his lack of experience is nonsense,” said Hans Spekman, Chairman of the Dutch Labour Party of which Mr. Dijsselbloem is an important member. “The crisis was caused by highly experienced officials, and they didn’t find a solution either. I’m confident Jeroen can handle it,” he said.

Among the others, French leaders raised concerns about Mr Dijsselbloem’s ability to forge a consensus between core and periphery nations, as he is associated with the Dutch and German push to impose strict austerity conditions on countries receiving international bailouts. The day before his appointment, Pierre Moscovici, the French Finance Minister, called for an open debate about how to get the 17-member single-currency area out of a spiral of austerity and recession.

The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, said on Monday he was confident that the incoming Eurogroup chief, would enjoy the full backing of his colleagues, despite his failure to win Spain’s support. “Spain’s rejection is not related to the Netherlands or me as a person”, Mr Dijsselbloem told reporters as he left the meeting “There seems to be a new basis of trust,” he added.

Mr Dijsselbloem has spent nearly his entire working life in politics, though mostly out of the limelight. He became a member of the Dutch parliament in 2000, and made headlines in 2007 when he sought to spur public debate on the morals of violent computer games and sexually explicit music videos. He was also an architect of Labour’s surprise election gains in September, and played an important role in the last coalition talks between Labour and Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center- right Liberal Party. People close to Mr Dijsselbloem describe him as an idealist whose political views are reflected in his strong work ethic and an austere lifestyle.

Asked whether the Spanish rejection could be because he represents a Nordic country, he said it was time to move on from those types of distinctions. But undoubtedly countries such as Germany – by whom he was strongly supported – and the Netherlands, will advocate tougher austerity requirements for nations receiving aid, meanwhile countries such as France and Spain are in favour of a more relaxed approach.

“I personally will try to build bridges between North and South, the triple-A’s and the non-Triples A’s," he said, referring to nations such as his that enjoy a top-notch credit rating. And this will be of course his main task. The economic crisis put northern and southern countries up against the others regarding fiscal and economic policies. It goes without saying that this does not help at all the European integration as more and more citizens in the south feel affected by the austerity imposed by the north and more and more citizens in the north are sick with what they call the “recklessness” of the south. Mr Juncker played a remarkable role in compromising with all the 17 European leaders of the Eurozone. Now the job is up to Mr Dijsselbloem, and the question is: will he act more as a Dutch Minister or as the Eurogroup Chairman?

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