Mario Draghi, governor of the Bank of Italy, may have to wait a while for public backing from Germany to become the next president of the European Central Bank, but the blessing of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is seen in Berlin as increasingly probable.
The choice of a successor to Jean-Claude Trichet at the helm of the ECB, at a time of continuing financial crisis in the eurozone, is of fundamental importance to Berlin, Steffen Seibert, the government spokesman, said on Wednesday.
“The lack of public discussion of ideas [about the post] should not be confused with a lack of ideas,” he told reporters.
Although Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France, on Tuesday endorsed Mr Draghi’s candidacy, the ECB presidency would not be filled without German agreement, said Mr Seibert. But he made no mention of a German candidate.
“We are looking for someone who has the international experience to exercise this important position,” said the spokesman. “We are looking for somebody who shares our belief in monetary stability. That is the decisive criterion.”
The decision would be announced by Ms Merkel “in good time” before a deal had to be reached at the European Union summit in June, he added.
Ms Merkel has yet to return from an Easter break. But enough details have emerged from Mr Seibert’s comments, and from off-the-record briefings by other officials, to suggest she will back Mr Draghi.
The Italian central bank chief has been favourite for the job since Axel Weber – former head of the Bundesbank and Berlin’s first choice – withdrew earlier this year. German officials insist that Mr Weber was “a good and correct candidate”. But they admit that since his withdrawal, no “suitable” German alternative has been found.
They say Germany wants an experienced heavyweight in the ECB presidency, from one of the big eurozone member states and with good communication skills to cope with the continuing financial crisis. Mr Draghi is seen as a “good candidate” who would fulfil those criteria.
Ms Merkel’s challenge will be to sell to German public opinion the choice of an Italian official – however highly qualified – as the chief guardian of the euro’s stability. She faced a sharp attack on Wednesday from Friedrich Merz, former parliamentary leader of her Christian Democrats, who said in a newspaper article that the currency union was becoming a “transfer union” based on German financial guarantees.
Mr Seibert refused to confirm or deny that Mr Sarkozy had consulted the chancellor directly before announcing in Rome on Tuesday that he was backing Mr Draghi. But the spokesman said they had discussed the question on several occasions.
“There is no other country with which we are in such constant political contact,” he said. The question would definitely be decided “in agreement” between Germany and France.
Italian government officials believe that Mr Sarkozy had agreed his public endorsement of Mr Draghi with the German government in advance.
“Germany gave the green light to get the process going,” said one official. They believe that Ms Merkel – the “king-maker” – wants to gauge German popular reaction to Mr Draghi before announcing her final decision.
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