Irish Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe on Thursday was picked as the new president of the Eurogroup, a key role as Europe sits in the depths of its deepest recession since World War II.
The group brings together the eurozone finance ministers who help guide European economic policy and where political divisions can be bitter, especially in times of crisis.
Donohoe beat out favorite Spanish Minister of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation Nadia Calvino, as well as Luxembourger Minister for Finances Pierre Gramegna, winning at least 10 votes of the 19 ministers, though the final result was not made public.
The job is considered one of the EU’s key positions, along with the presidents of the European Commission, EU Council and the European Parliament.
Donohoe begins his term on Monday and would be an important figure in watching over a massive EU recovery plan that is still in negotiation amid angry north-south divisions.
The eurozone economy is set to contract by a record 8.7 percent this year, with mass unemployment and other dire consequences still a possibility.
“I’m deeply conscious that the citizens of Europe ... have become fearful again for their futures, for their jobs and for their incomes,” Donohoe told reporters after the vote. “The challenges are great, but we will prevail and we will overcome them.”
The choice came as a surprise and was attributed to a campaign by ministers from smaller nations, who were wary of giving the highly strategic post to a European heavyweight such as Spain.
Ireland has angered its partners over the years for its firm opposition to a digital tax and its spirited defense of its low business tax that has attracted big US technology companies to its shores.
The 45-year-old would also be in charge of reviving stalled reforms of the single currency that is widely seen as needing fixing.
Donohoe’s road to victory began last week by gaining the crucial support of the European People’s Party that unites the European conservatives, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party.
A big fan of Star Wars, Donohoe is regarded as a prudent caretaker who kept his nation on the right track after the ravages of the eurozone debt crisis.
Calvino had the backing of southern Europe, France and Merkel, who said she would like to see a woman in the job for the first time.
Her opponents believed the job requires compromise between the nations of the north, who adhere to budgetary discipline, and those in the south, who are considered to be more lax.
The north-south split has taken on even greater importance as nations negotiate a 750 billion euros recovery plan that its proponents hope is agreed at an EU summit next week.
It is the second defeat for Gramegna, who lost in 2017 to the soft-spoken former Portuguese minister of finance Mario Centeno, who is stepping down after a single term that did not leave a strong impression.
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