BRUSSELS ― The stars have aligned for Nadia Calviño to become the next head of the European Investment Bank. But the saga isn’t over and it’s getting a bit heated.
As the Spanish finance minister’s supporters scramble to assemble a coalition of countries to turn a vote next week into a coronation, there are others ― notably those favoring her main rival, Margrethe Vestager ― still refusing to play ball.
After months of consultations, Belgian Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem, as leader of the selection process, sent a letter to his EU counterparts on Thursday, endorsing the Spaniard for the role, POLITICO revealed. Officials say that while it remains unclear whether Calviño has the backing of the required 18 of the bloc’s 27 countries, let alone the consensus that governments originally wanted, Van Peteghem is trying to unblock the process by putting forward Calviño.
“In case you object to this name, please formulate your objection in writing by Monday,” Van Peteghem wrote in the letter seen by POLITICO, adding the bank needs a new boss by January 1.
According to officials with knowledge of the process, all of whom spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential, countries that support Vestager were taken aback by Belgium’s move and are griping that they were not consulted before the letter was sent. An official close to one of the candidates said that Van Peteghem’s initiative might be an attempt to force Vestager to withdraw from the race. At least so far, that has not happened.
Another EU diplomat said that all candidates were aware of the letter before it was sent.
Calviño’s allies insist she has enough support to get through when the matter gets put to finance ministers on Friday next week, and said that the letter was a strategic move to pressure governments into bringing the saga to an end by plumping for her.
“It’s much easier to say you are for someone than to say you’re against someone,” one EU diplomat said.
Backers of Vestager however think they can call Van Peteghem’s bluff, and may be able to prove that no single candidate has enough votes to win. One official claimed that there was a blocking minority of nine to 10 countries ― including Poland and Italy, which put forward their own candidates ― who are unhappy with how Belgium managed the selection process.
“If this is an example of how Belgium will run the presidency [of the EU, when its six-month term starts on January 1] then there’s no need to have Council meetings [because there would be no discussion],” said one official. A spokesperson for Van Peteghem declined to comment.
There’s been particular interest in who gets the job because of the high-profile candidates who were attracted to the beefed-up EIB. The body doles out billions of euros of loans to big infrastructure projects across Europe and is growing in importance because it is expected to have a crucial role in rebuilding Ukraine and financing climate projects in the years ahead.
Calviño is a former European Commission official who was director general of the budget department and has been Spanish finance minister since 2018. Denmark’s Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner currently on leave from that role to focus on her candidacy, has signaled she will return to the Commission if she loses.
Negotiations on the appointment came to a standstill as most northern European countries opted for Vestager while southerners tended to back Calviño. However, in a major boost for the Spaniard’s bid, Germany’s socialist Chancellor Olaf Scholz publicly endorsed her last month. The question then turned to who French President Emmanuel Macron would side with.
As is so often the case, the appointment is unlikely to be just about countries thinking Calviño would be the best person for the job. EU officials continue to speculate privately that northern European governments could support her as a bargaining chip to ensure a planned overhaul of the bloc’s spending rules results in tougher debt and deficit targets than might otherwise be the case.
“In the EU there is always a link between different files,” a diplomat said.