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Dijsselbloem should stay as Eurogroup chair after Dutch poll - Slovakia

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Jeroen Dijsselbloem should stay on as the chairman of euro zone finance ministers regardless of the outcome of a Dutch election in March, Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir said on Monday, adding it was time again to discuss a permanent Eurogroup chair.

Dutch Finance Minister and Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem attends a euro zone finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Files

Dutch finance minister Dijsselbloem has been chairing the meetings of counterparts from the 19 countries sharing the euro since the start of 2013 and is now in the middle of his second 2.5 year term that expires at the end of this year.

However, he may cease to be finance minister after the Dutch parliamentary election in March, throwing open the issue of succession.

EU officials privately mention Kazimir and Spain’s Luis de Guindos as possible replacements for Dijsselbloem, but Kazimir said in a statement in response to these media reports that the Dutchman should complete his term.

“I think that he should finish his second 2.5 year mandate regardless of whether or not he remains the Dutch finance minister after the March election,” Kazimir said.

“And who knows, maybe it’s the right time to revive the debate on a permanent Eurogroup chief,” he said.

EU rules say the euro zone finance ministers who make up the Eurogroup should choose a president with a simple majority. They do not specify whether the chairman has to be a sitting finance minister, although that has been the practice so far.

Yet because of the increased workload since the euro zone sovereign debt crisis and plans to integrate the euro zone even further, euro zone officials have been discussing the idea of a “permanent” Eurogroup chairman.

This would be someone who would remain in office for at least five years and focus on euro zone issues full time, rather than as a task in addition to a normal finance minister role.

The European Commission, the EU executive arm, believes the economic affairs commissioner should permanently chair meetings of euro zone ministers, a view Dijsselbloem has openly opposed.

A potential replacement for Dijsselbloem or his re-appointment would also depend on political horse-trading for top EU jobs among the biggest political parties in Europe -- the centre-right, the centre-left and liberals.

The Eurogroup head position is likely to be seen as a package together with the replacement for the European Parliament speaker and the likely re-appointment in May of Donald Tusk, a centre-right former Polish prime minister, for a second term as the chairman of EU leaders.

Reporting Tatiana Jancarikova, writing by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Gareth Jones