It's all politics

The inevitable has finally occurred. On Monday, after months of machinations within the EU's most obscure institutions, Spain's economy minister Luis de Guindos was named as the next Vice President of the European Central Bank (ECB). The perpetually tired-looking De Guindos was long-tipped as the favourite for the position and ascended when his only rival, Ireland's Philip Lane, stepped aside. In May, he will relinquish his role in the Spanish government and step into the shoes of Portugal's Vitor Constancio, thus taking one of the most important monetary roles in the European Union.

You might well wonder how he got the job. The outgoing Spanish economy minister will take second place to Italian president Mariano Draghi on the six-member Executive Board, who are chosen “from among persons of recognised standing and professional experience in monetary or banking matters by common accord of the Member States”, according to the ECB statute. What the statute doesn't mention is the role played by favours in the selection process; certainly, in De Guindos' case, these were at least as important as his experience in “monetary or banking matters”.

The Spanish economy minister gained Germany's vote on one condition: that Spain back the German candidate for the presidency of the ECB, which becomes vacant when Draghi's term expires late next year. France also backed De Guindos, saying that he possesses the “relevant experience and personal merits for the role”. Anything else? Oh, yes: Spain will vote for Paris as the next base of the European Banking Authority.

De Guindos - who worked for Lehman Brothers and BMN before moving into politics - also received Portugal's blessing, in return for Spain having backed Mario Centeno as president of the eurozone's finance ministers, a role the Portuguese duly took up last month. Italy was one of the few countries to oppose the Spaniard, thus taking sweet revenge for Spain not endorsing Milan's bid to be the new base for the European Medicine Agency. It's all politics at the ECB.

The Spanish minister clearly can't wait to leave his current role. In the spring, De Guindos will move from his office in Madrid to one in the ECB's glinting skyscraper in Frankfurt - the EU equivalent of a book-lined study in an ancient English university. He recently said in an interview that his six years as economy minister in Mariano Rajoy's conservative government “have felt like 60”.

His successor will take up a challenging portfolio. This year, Spain maintained 8th place in Bloomberg's ranking of the world's most “miserable” economies, in part based on an unemployment rate of 17%. And Rajoy's minority government is hamstrung in congress, unable to do anything without the support of hostile parties. Whoever replaces De Guindos is in for a hell of a sixty years.