German monetary hawks are making a concerted push for Jens Weidmann to succeed Mario Draghi as president of the European Central Bank, amid fears that Germany could miss out on all the top EU jobs up for grabs this year.
Berlin’s priority is to ensure a German becomes president of the European Commission, and Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel has thrown her weight behind Manfred Weber’s bid for the job. But officials in Berlin know that Mr Weber — a Bavarian MEP with no government experience, who is the lead candidate of the European People’s party in this weekend’s European elections — faces a struggle to secure the post.
“If it is clear there is a blockade against [Weber] that you cannot overcome, then the ECB can be an alternative,” said one senior figure in Ms Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc. “It makes sense.”
Many in Germany have long argued that it is time for a German to take the helm of the ECB. Mr Weidmann, the president of the Bundesbank, is widely seen by his compatriots as a worthy successor to Mr Draghi. But a Weidmann candidacy is contentious in southern Europe and France due to his past opposition to Mr Draghi’s radical monetary policies.
Mr Weidmann himself has launched a charm offensive, giving interviews to southern European newspapers and making a speech in Hamburg last week in which he defended the ECB’s expansionary monetary policy. Without it, he said, “economic growth would have been weaker”.
Even if his bid is unsuccessful, it may be used by Germany as a bargaining chip in the negotiations for the whole package of EU jobs that must be decided this year.
Ms Merkel has opened the door to Germany putting forward candidates for other top jobs. “I am campaigning for [Weber] as president of the commission,” she told the Süddeutsche Zeitung last week. “But that does not mean that Germany does not have other excellent personalities for other jobs.”
The danger for Ms Merkel is that, having missed out on the best opportunity to secure a top EU job for a German in close to a generation, she emerges from the negotiations empty-handed.
“There’s a big danger that we’ll be left with nothing,” said one CDU/CSU adviser. “If that happens, it is inevitable that Merkel will get the blame.”
Mr Weber’s claim to the top EU job derives from the “Spitzenkandidat” system in which the nominee of the largest EU parliamentary group becomes commission president.
But Emmanuel Macron, the French president, is strongly opposed to the Spitzenkandidat process and could block Mr Weber’s appointment. With the European People’s party also expected to lose votes to rightwing populist parties, Mr Weber might struggle to win a majority in the European Parliament.
However, Mr Weidmann is also no shoo-in as head of the ECB. He has been a harsh critic of Mr Draghi’s ultra-low interest rates, €2.6tn bond-buying stimulus programme and his pledge to do “whatever it takes” to save the eurozone. As a result, he is widely mistrusted in southern Europe and his potential candidacy is also viewed with scepticism in Paris.
Mr Weidmann’s opponents also point out that Germans sit at the helm of other EU financial sector bodies, including the European Investment Bank, the European Stability Mechanism — the rescue fund for eurozone sovereigns — and the Single Resolution Board, the agency in charge of shutting down the eurozone’s failed banks.
However, Mr Weidmann’s chances of succeeding Mr Draghi have been talked up in the German media. In a profile this month, news magazine Der Spiegel said his ascent to the summit of the ECB would be a “dream come true” for many German savers
“It is their hope that a German head of the ECB would finally end the low interest rate policy of the current bank chief, the loose monetary policy which has devalued German savings and life insurance,” Der Spiegel said. It also quoted experts as suggesting that Mr Weidmann would succeed in “depoliticising” the ECB.