A prime candidate

The mini-scandal generated by Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem's claim that southern European countries squander EU funds on drinking and chasing women will soon be forgotten. Ignition of Article 50 this week is, after all, a slightly more important matter than a few silly remarks from the Dutch finance minister. But speculation about who will take Dijsselbloem's place if he fails to win a second renewal of his position in January 2018 is now rife. Mariano Rajoy, of course, is convinced that the Spanish economy minister is the best man for the job, saying to reporters in Rome last Friday that Luis de Guindos is "one of the most important and competent personalities in the Eurogroup".

That may well be true. The more pertinent questions, though, are whether De Guindos actually wants the Eurogroup presidency or if he intends to nominate himself for the position. On the latter point, Spain's economy minister made a barely-credible claim on Tuesday, saying that he is "not a candidate for the presidency of the Eurogroup".

I'm almost certain that's not true. De Guindos lost out to Dijsselbloem in the summer of 2015, when the latter won a second term as boss of the eurozone countries' finance ministers. He was re-appointed despite the fact that his Spanish rival had the backing of Angela Merkel. Brussels insiders also reported a sense within the EU's top insitutions at the time that a minister from Spain was owed a big job after a smarting rejection by the European Central Bank (ECB) three years earlier.

In 2012, Luxembourg's Yves Mersch replaced José Manuel González Paramo on the ECB's board, despite the fact that another Spaniard was put forward to replace Paramo. It was perceived as a snub by Spain, which became the largest eurozone country without representation at the bank's table. Four years on and that is still the case. If awarding the Spanish economy minister presidency of the Eurogroup in 2015 would have taken the sting out of that rejection, then Dijsselbloem's re-appointment must have been a doubly nasty surprise for De Guindos.

Indeed, last December the Spanish economy minister complained to reporters that Spain was not adequately represented in top EU committees. He also flagged up Spain's intention of trying to be "influential in all [EU] debates". Why on earth, then, would he not want another shot at the Eurogroup presidency?

Other than a sudden loss of political ambition, only one reason presents itself. Next year, the vice chairmanship of the ECB board becomes vacant when Portugal's Vítor Constâncio steps down. De Guindos might well have his sights on this role rather than the less weighty one of Eurogroup president. Although he could, of course, follow the example set by former UK chancellor George Osborne - now the editor of a major newspaper as well as a politician and financial consultant - and put himself forward for both.