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article imageEurogroup head Dijsselbloem to step down in January

By AFP     Oct 9, 2017 in World

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said Monday he will step down as head of the Eurogroup in January, leaving vacant one of the most influential jobs in the eurozone at a key moment.

Dijsselbloem has chaired meetings of the eurozone finance ministers since early 2013, but is forced to stand aside after his party suffered a drubbing in national elections earlier this year.

"I have done the job for five years which I think is enough. We will have a new chair of the Eurogroup," Dijsselbloem said after a regular meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Luxembourg.

In a concession by his fellow ministers, Dijsselbloem will stay in office as Eurogroup chief until the end of his mandate in January, even after he loses his ministerial job when a new Dutch government is confirmed later this month.

Dijsselbloem leaves office just as the eurozone is to set out on major reforms towards better integration in the single currency bloc that nearly imploded during the Greek debt crisis.

The reforms are championed by French President Emmanual Macron and will require careful brokering by a new Eurogroup chief amid calls for caution by other member states, including powerful Germany.

By making his announcement, Dijsselbloem quashed rumours that he would stay on in the job as part of a revamp of the position that has until now been reserved to national ministers.

The vacancy will spark avid horse-trading in EU capitals, with a wide array of eurozone figures vying to take over the job.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno, Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir and European Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici are some of the names thought to be gunning for the position.

Candidates will have to make themselves known two weeks before a December 4 meeting of eurozone ministers, in which the representatives of the single currency's 19 member states will choose the next chair.

The departure of Dijsselbloem means two of the most experienced ministers are leaving the Eurogroup, which took a central role in deciding a wave of bailouts for near bankrupt countries, such as Ireland, Cyprus, Portugal and, most dramatically, Greece.

Influential German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble attended his final Eurogroup meeting on Monday.

He takes the post of national parliament speaker later in the month.

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