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Euro zone ministers puzzle over how to pick ECB vice-president

January 19, 2010
Lucas Papademos

Lucas Papademos

Euro zone finance ministers have failed to pick the next vice president of the European Central Bank, partly because they are not sure how to do it under the European Union’s new Lisbon treaty. The treaty, which came into force in December, gives the euro area finance ministers — the Eurogroup — legal status and is supposed to simplify decision-making in the 27-nation bloc. But the 16 euro zone ministers decided to ask lawyers how to choose a successor to ECB Vice-President Lucas Papademos, delaying the decision until February, one diplomat said. Vitor Constancio and Yves Mersch, central bank chiefs of Portugal and Luxembourg respectively, are running, as is Peter Praet of Belgium’s central bank.

The problem is uncertainty about how the Eurogroup should vote under the treaty.
 In fact, the Eurogroup, which met on Monday as usual on the the eve of an Ecofin meeting of all of the EU’s 27 finance ministers, and is described in the EU treaty as an informal group, cannot take formal votes. But it can probably hold informal ones.
 Formal votes are held at the Ecofins, but on issues concerning the euro zone only Eurogroup ministers vote. If they do, then what majority is needed? What if you have to choose from among three, not two candidates?  In theory, the Eurogroup ministers could hold a vote on what voting rules to apply. But in that case, there is also no clarity on how to vote.

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