By Annika Breidthardt and Jan Strupczewski
BRUSSELS, Dec 4 (Reuters) - France’s Pierre Moscovici emerged as a candidate to become the new chairman of euro zone finance ministers on Tuesday, as policymakers scrambled to fill a power vacuum left by Jean-Claude Juncker’s planned year-end departure.
Juncker’s announcement that he would no longer preside over the Eurogroup, the influential monthly council of finance ministers, after year-end or early 2013 has given policymakers just four weeks to agree on a successor to head one of the most powerful committees in the EU.
The Eurogroup has taken or prepared some of the most important decisions in the bloc’s debt crisis over the past three years, such as Greece’s debt restructuring, the creation of euro zone emergency funds and bailouts of Ireland and Portugal.
“Moscovici is the front runner now but it really remains completely open,” one euro zone source involved in the talks told Reuters. “There is some opposition against him though.”
Asked about the job on the sidelines of a EU finance ministers meeting, Moscovici said he was “surprised and flattered” to be considered a potential candidate but added: “I‘m not here to talk about that.”
In addition to other potential candidates mentioned in connection with the job earlier this year, some have called for a head of government to run the Eurogroup, rather than a finance minister.
For many years, Juncker had both roles in Luxembourg, giving him particular clout in discussions. He has headed the group since 2005.
Asked if she would want the job, Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter said: “That’s a position for a head of government and as you know I‘m not a head of government. The bosses will decide how they want to handle this.”
Juncker’s double role created a convenient link between the euro zone’s 17 finance ministers and its heads of state and government, who ultimately make the most important decisions. By sitting on the committees for both finance ministers and leaders, Juncker was able to act as a bridge between the two.
The EU treaty does not set any conditions for the head of the Eurogroup, saying only that the person must be chosen by euro zone finance ministers via a majority vote and will serve for a renewable 2-1/2-year term.
Earlier this year, when it looked as if Juncker might step down, several names were put forward as potential successors, including German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, who is a former finance minister, and Mario Monti, the caretaker prime minister of Italy.
Senior German conservative lawmaker Michael Fuchs said on Tuesday that Schaeuble should be the next head of the Eurogroup because Germany puts up 27 percent of the financing for the euro zone bailout funds.
“The Germans should have someone at the top who can control this,” Fuchs, the deputy leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in the Bundestag lower house, told Reuters at her Christian Democrats’ party congress in Hanover.
“I would be happy if it were Schaeuble,” he said.
Germany already has one official at the top of an European institution with Klaus Regling heading the European Stability Mechanism and the EU traditionally tries to divide up its key posts between member nations.
“Schaeuble does not stand a chance anymore,” the source said, adding new Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem and Luxembourg’s Finance Minister Luc Frieden as potential options for their ability to build consensus and economic expertise.
Financial markets play close attention to comments made by finance ministers ahead of each Eurogroup meeting, and markets and the euro frequently move sharply on the basis of what is agreed or likely to be agreed among the ministers.