Eurozone picks new chief as pandemic recession looms

Brussels – Eurozone finance ministers, known as the Eurogroup, are set to elect their new president , filling a key job just as the continent is facing the worst recession in EU history.

Among the 19 ministers, three have bid for the post: Spain’s Nadia Calvino, the favourite who is part of Madrid’s left-wing government, Ireland’s centre-right Paschal Donohoe and Luxembourg centrist Pierre Gramegna.

The job is considered one of the Europe’s key positions, along with the heads of the European Commission, EU Council and the European Parliament.

Whoever wins will be tasked with watching over a massive EU recovery plan that is still in negotiation as well as reviving stalled reforms of the single currency that is widely seen as needing fixing.

The eurozone economy is set to contract by a record 8.7 percent this year, with mass unemployment and other dire consequences still a possibility.

The 51-year-old Calvino, who would become the first woman to lead the Eurogroup, has the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the countries of the south.

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But “she also has major opposition from the Dutch and that whole gang who say ‘they’d rather die’,” said a European source.

Her opponents, mainly from free-market leaning member states, say the job requires compromise between countries of the north, who adhere to budgetary discipline, and those in the south, who are considered to be more lax.

The north-south split has taken on even greater importance as countries negotiate the 750 billion euro recovery plan.

Known as the “Frugal Four”, the Netherlands and Austria, teamed up with non-euro Sweden and Denmark, have doubts of the necessity for the massive wave of EU spending.

Opposite them are Italy and Spain who see the plan as necessary to help Europe and show solidarity with countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

“Spain has a very strong position at the moment in this discussion, which is going to be the heart of the affairs at the Eurogroup,” said the European source.

The 10 countries to receive the most in grants and loans under the 750 billion recovery plan proposed by the European Commmission.

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Given those concerns, the two outsiders are believed to have shot at beating Calvino.

Donohoe last week gained the support of the European People’s Party that unites the European conservatives, including Merkel’s CDU in Germany.

The 45-year-old Irishman is regarded as a prudent caretaker who kept his country on the right track after the ravages of the eurozone debt crisis.

“He has a serious chance, because it’s going to be difficult for Nadia Calvino to get 10 votes,” a European diplomat said.

Former diplomat Gramegna, 62, is a veteran of the Eurogroup, which he has been attending since 2013.

He tried his luck in 2017 against Portugal’s soft-spoken Mario Centeno, who is stepping down after a single term that did not leave a strong impression.