the euro zone
Spain's economy minister is going to be preoccupied over the next few months - but not with the Spanish economy. Or at least not principally with the Spanish economy. After months of elliptical statements and hints, Luis de Guindos finally announced on Wednesday that he is a candidate for the Vice-Presidency of the European Central Bank (ECB), a position that becomes vacant when Portugal's Vitor Costâncio steps down in May.
De Guindos really needn't have been so coy about the possibility of taking over from Constâncio. It's widely known that Spain has been after top-level representation within the EU for years. More specifically, De Guindos himself has long been seeking a big job in Brussels, spurred on by never-forgotten rejections in 2012 and 2015.
In 2012, Spaniard José Paramo was replaced by Luxembourgian Yves Mersche on the ECB's board, although Spain had nominated another Spanish candidate. De Guindos was furious - even though he hadn't put himself forward to replace Paramo - and said that the ECB had severed a “gentleman's agreement”. The board's perceived snub rendered Spain the biggest eurozone country without representation at the ECB.
Three years later, in 2015, Jeroen Dijsselbloem's position as president of the Eurogroup - the collective name given to finance ministers of eurozone countries - came up for renewal. De Guindos was touted as a favourite to replace him, but his Dutch counterpart won another two-and-a-half-year term.
Dijsselbloem was replaced as Eurogroup president last month by Portugal's Mário Centeno, but Spain didn't even put forward a nominee for the position this year. In fact, the presidency wasn't contested at all, so caught up are EU countries with playing musical chairs at the ECB (president Mario Draghi is also due to be replaced late next year).
So: a position that, just two years ago, was one of the hottest jobs in the EU was this year completely forgotten about. Why? Because the EU's top politicians are busy trying to sort out problems in their own countries? No. Because they're scrabbling about for an even more substantial EU job. We all know that politicians these days are more concerned about their CVs than serving the people that elected them. The clamour for a place on the board of the ECB just proves it again.
In December 2016, De Guindos implied that it was time for him to start casting about for a new career-challenge as “Spain was out of the political uncertainty spotlight”. Not true. The minority conservative government to which he belongs is still mired in corruption scandals; so diluted is its power it is barely able to pass new legislation, nor budgets; and the Catalonia issue has exploded again, this time to an unprecedented extent. Yep - now definitely seems like the right time to move to the ECB, Luis.