BRUSSELS Spain has blocked the appointment of Yves Mersch to the European Central Bank's executive board, delaying the process of filling a post that is critical to tackling Europe's debt crisis.
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 months-long battle to confirm the Luxembourg banker's candidacy.
But Spain said on Monday it had blocked the procedure, meaning EU leaders will now have to discuss Mersch's appointment face-to-face at their next summit on November 22-23. If necessary they will use a weighted-voting method to clinch an agreement, officials said.
No other country has formally opposed him, but if it is not possible to secure agreement on his appointment then, a decision may have to wait until December -- meaning the position on the ECB's six-member executive board will have been vacant for more than six months, since the end of May.
Leaving the position vacant for much longer could create management strains at the ECB, which is playing a central role in trying to keep the euro zone stable through the crisis.
Spain's move is a victory of sorts for the European Parliament, which has long opposed Mersch's appointment on gender grounds, saying that not enough effort has been made to find a suitable woman candidate for the high-profile post.
It is not clear if Madrid, which put forward a candidate of its own to fill the seat left vacant when Jose Manuel Gonzalez Paramo stepped down, will re-nominate a rival for Mersch, a hawkish banker favored by Germany.
A spokesman for the ECB declined to comment.
If Spain were to nominate an alternative to Mersch, two names have been mentioned in the past: Soledad Nunez Ramos, the head of the Spanish treasury, and Belen Romana Garcia, a former director-general of the treasury and private-sector economist.
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, not his ability.
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.
Analysts have said that if Spain had nominated former finance minister Elena Salgado for the board when Gonzalez Paramo announced that he was stepping down, 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.
(Reporting By Claire Davenport)