Bonbon for Rome

Germany unhappy at prospect of Italian heading ECB bank regulator

FILE PHOTO: Nouy, chair of the Supervisory Board of the European Central Bank speaks at a Thomson Reuters newsmaker event in London
You must be this tall to replace Ms. Nouy. Source: Reuters

When Danièle Nouy of France retires as head of the ECB bank regulator at the end of 2018, Italy would like a shot at the next five-year term of the euro-zone banking supervision head – something Germany is not happy about.

EU diplomats said three Italian candidates are jockeying for the post, and all of them have experience monitoring European banks.

Andrea Enria has been head of the European Banking Authority, which is currently moving from London to Paris because of Brexit, since 2011. It would be a promotion because the ECB’s banking watchdog has far greater powers than the EBA.

Top ECB supervisor Ignazio Angeloni, who represents the ECB on the EU’s bank supervision board, is another candidate. He was instrumental in setting up the watchdog and is a close confidant of ECB President Mario Draghi, a fellow Italian.

Fabio Panetta has also been named. He’s the deputy governor of the Italian central bank but is seen as the weakest of the three contenders. Central bank sources said Mr. Panetta, 59, had sided too strongly with the Italian banking sector in the past and would struggle to gain support from other euro-zone member states.

Losing means winning

Italy is well placed to clinch Ms. Nouy’s job because it is losing three top EU posts next year. Mr. Draghi, the ECB chief, retires in November 2019. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini leaves at the end of October. And the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, leaves in June next year.

That means Italy as the EU’s fourth-biggest country has a strong chance of clinching at least one new top job. But EU diplomats said the German government is opposed to the idea of an Italian heading the watchdog, possibly because it might look bad given the problems facing the debt-laden Italian banking sector.

EU diplomats said Berlin would prefer the job to go to the deputy governor of the central bank of Ireland, Sharon Donnery. But that’s unlikely to happen because Ireland instead wants to place the central bank’s governor, Philip Lane, in the ECB Directorate.

The German Finance Ministry declined to comment. Italy, together with Cyprus, Greece and Portugal, is among the countries saddled with the biggest bad loans in Europe. But Italy’s banks have recently managed to cut back those debts significantly.

Musical chairs

So far, Italy is the only country that has shown an interest in Ms. Nouy’s job. Other countries have suitable candidates too, but they’re unlikely to field them.

German ECB Executive Board member Sabine Lautenschläger would be highly qualified. But the German government won’t propose her because there’s a big reshuffle of top EU jobs coming next year and Germany wants to make sure it gets at least one of them.

The ECB, the EU Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council are all due to get new presidents, and Germany’s chances of getting one of those posts would diminish if Ms. Lautenschläger succeeded Ms. Nouy.

There are rumors in Brussels and Berlin that Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to nominate either Economics Minister Peter Altmaier or Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen for the post of EU Commission chief. It would be the first time since the 1950s that a German bagged the job; Walter Hallstein, the first president of the Commission, served from 1958 to 1967.

Ms. Merkel has been lobbying for Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann to succeed Mr. Draghi as ECB president. But he’s known as a monetary policy hawk with a strong focus on tight monetary policy, and his appointment could run into resistance from some euro member states. Besides, France is also believed to be interested in the post, say EU insiders.

Ruth Berschens is Handelsblatt’s bureau chief in Brussels. To contact the author: berschens@handelsblatt.com

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