Dijsselbloem, right, meeting Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras in Athens this morning.
As part of the big Franco-German deal announced last night in Paris, President François Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel took everyone by surprise by announcing they now want a permanent head of the so-called eurogroup, the committee of 17 eurozone finance ministers that does all the heavy lifting on regional economic policy, including bailouts.
The timing of the agreement (it’s on page 8 of the nine-page “contribution”, which we’ve posted here) is a bit awkward, since a new part-time eurogroup chairman was appointed just six months ago: Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem.
Most EU officials view the deal as more an effort at Franco-German rapprochement than an attempt to force Dijsselbloem out, despite the fact he has stirred controversy in his short tenure in the job. As one senior official put it, agreeing to language that eurozone reforms “could include” a permanent eurogroup chair “is not exactly ousting someone”.
We here at Brussels Blog asked the FT’s man in Amsterdam, Matt Steinglass, to send us the reaction from Dijsselbloem’s homeland:
There is surprise and a bit of resentment. Dijsselbloem was forced to issue a hasty statement that he did not support the move and would not accept the position if it meant he could no longer serve as finance minister.
Flowers are the traditional way to say “I love you”. But in European Union etiquette, they can just as well be the side-product of a political spat.
Romanian authorities this week-end blocked six trucks filled with flowers from the Netherlands, citing health concerns linked to unspecified “dangerous bacteria”.
The blockade came – perhaps coincidentally, but likely not – just one day after the Dutch government said it would veto the enlargement of the passport-free Schengen zone to Romania and Bulgaria.
The Dutch are not the only sceptics when it comes to expanding Europe’s borders to include the eastern duo, a decision that requires unanimity among current Schengen members.
At least a dozen other countries, including France and Germany, lined up against Schengen enlargement last year, worried that though Bulgaria and Romania had met the technical requirements laid out in the accession programme, the endemic corruption in both countries had to be addressed first.
The analysis piece we ran in yesterday’s paper about the threat populism poses to European integration has gotten so much feedback, that I thought I’d post more on the interview I had with Dutch European affairs minister Ben Knapen, which helped inspire it.
As mentioned in the original piece, Knapen is highly critical of officials — including José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission — who argue that populist sentiments should be marginalised or ignored by European leaders. Instead, he thinks Brussels should take such concerns more seriously than they are now.
In fact, Knapen singled out Barroso in our interview, which Dutch officials tell me is a bit of pushback to recent comments Barroso made urging European leaders to “not give in to the populists or extremists” in upcoming EU budget negotiations, remarks picked up by the Dutch press. Said Knapen:
One little-noticed side effect of the Greek debt crisis is that it is playing into the hands of those who oppose faster progress on enlarging the European Union. Western Balkan countries such as Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are queuing up at the EU’s door, but only Croatia has any chance of membership in the next three years.
Among the reasons is that Greece, the first Balkan state to enter the EU (in 1981), has been exposed as a country that not only ran ruinous and reckless fiscal policies for many years, but deceived its partners with false data in order to join the eurozone at the start of this decade. Rightly or wrongly, some policymakers in EU national capitals argue that this unhappy experience demonstrates that, when it comes to public probity, Balkan states are just not to be trusted.