| COPENHAGEN, March 30
COPENHAGEN, March 30 A meeting to decide who
will be the next chairman of the powerful Eurogroup and who will
take up an executive board seat on the European Central Bank
broke up in angry disarray on Friday, prompted by a loose-lipped
Jean-Claude Juncker, current chairman of the Eurogroup,
which steers 17-nation euro zone, ended the meeting early and
walked out before finance ministers, central bankers and
European Commission officials even discussed the jobs.
He was not present at a later, larger meeting of European
Union finance ministers when it started
It means a delay in knowing whether Luxembourger Yves Mersch
will take a seat on the ECB Bank board and who will succeed
countryman Juncker if he does.
Juncker was upset with Austrian Finance Minister Maria
Fekter for announcing the bloc had reached a separate agreement
on the capability of its debt crisis firewall.
"The decision was not possible. The decision is delayed till
mid-April," a visibly upset Juncker said as he left the building
without holding a scheduled news conference.
"There was no point in holding a press conference because
the Austrian finance minister announced the deal already as the
meeting was going on," he told journalists as he waited to board
a lift to his hotel room.
The Danish presidency then cancelled the news conference, a
rare move for the Eurogroup.
Fekter's spokesman said the minister had apologised to
Juncker and had only given reporters a guideline about the home
stretch of the debt negotiations, telling them Juncker would
make an official statement.
Mersch has been tipped as the frontrunner to replace Jose
Manuel Gonzalez-Paramo when the Spaniard's term expires at the
end of May and the finance ministers were scheduled to discuss
who would fill the post at its meeting on Friday.
If Mersch is named to the ECB board at the end of May, it
would be more difficult for Juncker, who is also from
Luxembourg, to remain as Eurogroup chairman.
He has said he does not want to remain in a post he has held
for 7-1/2 years though there has been talk that Juncker may be
asked to stay on while the euro zone grapples with its
sovereign debt crisis.
Sources have told Reuters German Finance Minister Wolfgang
Schaeuble is now highly likely to succeed him.
Juncker's position is one of the most influential in
European decision-making and is one in a series of
interconnected posts, including the ECB job.
The other two positions are the head of the European Bank
for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the head of the
European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the permanent euro zone
bailout fund that will come into force from July.
One source told Reuters France's unwillingness to single out
the decision on the ECB board position from the package of four
jobs was another reason why ministers postponed an agreement.
Juncker has complained about health problems - most recently
kidney stones - and tiredness in the past two years. He did not
join euro zone ministers at their joint lunch on Friday, two
Instead, he was seen wandering around the hotel car park
smoking a cigarette and talking heatedly into his cellphone
before returning to his hotel room.
One source said Juncker had shouted at Austria's Fekter
during the morning meeting in front of all her fellow ministers
for informing the press of the bloc's decision to boost its
The same source said Juncker was also furious about Spanish
newspaper el Pais running a transcript of the last euro group
meeting with details, calling such leaks unacceptable behaviour.
If Schaeuble took over, it would give Germany even more
control over the agenda of monthly meetings of euro zone finance
ministers, but it could also cramp Schaeuble's style as he would
have to act on behalf of all 17 euro area countries.