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By Thomas Escritt
AMSTERDAM, July 12 (Reuters) - Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, a leading candidate for a top economic policy job in the European Commission, has said excuses given by Europe's banks for not lending were wrong.
Interviewed by Dutch radio on Saturday, Dijsselbloem said banks were not correct to argue that the need to improve their balance sheets prevented them lending money to the real economy.
"The capital that banks need to raise so they can withstand losses doesn't mean that you can lend less money. That's a recurring argument from the banking world which is in fact not correct," he said.
"They must have a stronger balance sheet if they take more risk on onto their balance sheet. That doesn't mean they have to lend less."
Dijsselbloem, a centre-left politician who became a cheerleader for fiscal discipline in the EU, has served as chairman of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers for the past 18 months and is widely tipped as a possible successor to current economic and monetary affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn.
Each of the EU's 28 members appoints a single member to the Commission, the bloc's executive body, and the Netherlands has yet to name its candidate.
Dutch media have suggested the government is minded to appoint Dijsselbloem in the hope his prominence as Eurogroup chair will help secure the top economics post.
Dijsselbloem declined during the interview to confirm that he was a candidate for the job, saying only that he was satisfied with the two jobs - finance minister and Eurogroup chair - he already had.
On Friday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was equally reserved on the topic. "My task is to secure a good post for a good candidate, and the less I say about that in public, the more likely I am to succeed in that," Rutte said.
Dijsselbloem said he believed Europe's banks were in much better shape after years of writing down bad debts and so were in a position to resume lending much more strongly.
"The real problems have been largely dealt with, including in the Netherlands ... Many tens of billions have been raised."
He said he was tackling the excessive bonus culture in the Dutch banking sector, which was behind many of the problems.
"I am taking on the sector," he said. "I am ensuring that it becomes a lot more stable and strong, that it can come to the service of the real economy, that they can start lending again. To get there is a bitter process, and I'm taking on the excessive bonus culture which has brought enormous risks."
"We have had a lot of problems with bad investments and in investment banking ... all this was driven by the bonus culture ... at great cost to the economy," he added.
Dijsselbloem said Portugal's Banco Espirito Santo, which rattled markets this week on concerns about bad debts in the wider group that controls the bank, was "isolated" from the holding company of which it was part.
"The bank is already recapitalised," he said. "As far as risks are concerned, it is reasonably isolated from the conglomerate of which it is part. The conglomerate has the problems; the bank does not." (Reporting By Thomas Escritt; edited by Sara Ledwith and David Evans)