* Spain blocks 'fast-track' appointment of central banker
* Says all options open on filling ECB board seat
* Says cannot rule out presenting alternative candidate
By Claire Davenport and Julien Toyer
BRUSSELS/MEXICO CITY, Nov 5 Spain on Monday
obstructed the appointment of Yves Mersch to the executive board
of the European Central Bank saying it wasn't comfortable with
the process being used and left open the possibility of
nominating its own candidate for the job.
The move re-opened a seven-month battle and follows
opposition from the European Parliament, which voted against
Luxembourger Mersch because it wants more women in the European
Union's higher echelons.
EU leaders can still push through the appointment, critical
to tackling Europe's debt crisis, but will have to do so
face-to-face at one of their upcoming summits before the end of
the year, probably in December.
The European Council, which represents EU member states, had
tried to secure Mersch's appointment via a "written procedure",
a fast-track method that would have put an end to the battle to
confirm the banker's candidacy.
But Spain said on Monday it was opposed to using such a
"What the Spanish government is doing is to take note of a
decision of the European parliament that, even if not binding,
is relevant and has strong political value," Economy Minister
Luis de Guindos said at a news conference on the sidelines of
the meeting of G20 finance ministers in Mexico City.
"There should be no doubt that Spain, logically, had a clear
willingness that a Spanish candidate should be appointed."
Asked if Spain would now consider presenting an alternative
female candidate to Mersch, he said: "I will not tell you either
yes or no. Spain keeps all options and possibilities open."
Spanish officials had said earlier that there had been
insufficient discussion of Mersch's candidacy among EU leaders
and they wanted to ensure that a proper debate took place, hence
their decision to block his fast-track approval.
The European Council said the issue would be discussed soon.
"The issue will be on the agenda of an upcoming meeting in
the European Council with the objective of taking the formal
decision," it said in a short statement.
EU leaders will meet in Brussels on Nov. 22-23, when they
are scheduled to discuss the next long-term EU budget, and again
on Dec. 13-14, when they will discuss economic issues.
If a unanimous decision on Mersch cannot be reached, then a
weighted-voting system will be used, officials said. That will
likely ensure Mersch is appointed since Spain, which is the only
country to oppose Mersch, could not block his appointment alone.
Mersch, a conservative monetary policymaker whose candidacy
is strongly backed by Germany, was nominated to the six-person
executive board, the ECB's top decision-making forum, in July.
Leaving the position vacant for much longer could create
management strains at the bank, which is playing a central role
in trying to keep the euro zone stable through the crisis.
ECB President Mario Draghi told the European Parliament last
month that he wanted Mersch's nomination approved.
Spain's move is a victory of sorts for the European
Parliament, which has long opposed Mersch's appointment on
gender grounds, saying not enough effort has been made to find a
suitable woman for the high-profile post.
There are no questions about Mersch's qualification in terms
of the job itself.
Mersch has kept silent during the confirmation process, even
after the European Parliament came out against him last month in
a non-binding vote, citing his gender only.
The parliament's frustration has been focused on the
European Council, which it says has not done enough to come up
with strong women for the post. The Council has said it is up to
member states to put forward candidates, and if no women are
proposed, there is little it can do about it.
If Spain were to nominate a female alternative to Mersch,
Belen Romana Garcia, a former director-general of the treasury,
is one name that has been mentioned.
"She ticks all the boxes," a Spanish government source told
Reuters. Romana Garcia was the Spanish candidate to become the
European Stability Mechanism head earlier this year.
Analysts have said that if Spain had nominated former
finance minister Elena Salgado for the board when Jose Manuel
Gonzalez Paramo stepped down in May, she would have been a
shoo-in instead of Mersch.
But the Spanish government decided to go with the ECB's top
lawyer, Antonio Sainz de Vicuna, whose nomination did not
succeed, opening the way for Mersch to be appointed.
Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell and Sirkka Hamalainen of Finland
are the only two women to have occupied posts on the ECB's
executive board since it was set up in 1998. There are currently
no women at the top of the central bank.