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Jockeying Is Under Way to Succeed ECB Chief Mario Draghi



FRANKFURT—This year has only begun, but many in the European Union’s capital city of Brussels are already contemplating big changes for next year, including Brexit, European Parliament elections and a new executive team at the European Commission. Perhaps the most significant EU transition of 2019, however, will happen in Frankfurt when European Central Bank President

Mario Draghi

leaves his post.

Many credit Mr. Draghi with almost single-handedly saving Europe’s economy in July 2012, when he pledged to do “whatever it takes to preserve the euro.” His intervention set southern European bond yields plummeting, thus demonstrating that the ECB president’s words can influence international financial markets far faster and more profoundly than those of any EU official in Brussels.

The sway of the ECB head explains why jockeying to succeed Mr. Draghi has already begun. The first decisions to narrow the field of potential successors are weeks away, even if they don’t deal directly with the top post itself.

When eurozone finance ministers meet later this month, they are likely to call for candidates to succeed ECB Vice President

Vítor Constâncio.

The 74-year-old Portuguese economist departs at the end of May, when his nonrenewable, eight-year term as the bank’s sole vice president expires.

Spain is eager for the post. “Spain deserves this position,” Spanish Finance Minister

Luis de Guindos

said in November. Madrid lost a spot on the bank’s six-member board in 2012 when

José Manuel González-Páramo’s

term ended. Mr. de Guindos himself is a probable nominee, although he has declined to comment on his potential nomination. A Finance Ministry spokeswoman on Wednesday declined to comment further.

The decision ultimately lies in the hands of European national leaders, and analysts expect a bargaining process that will feed into Mr. Draghi’s succession. Germany, many speculate, might support a Spanish candidate for the deputy position with the understanding that Spain would later support Bundesbank President

Jens Weidmann

for the top ECB job.

Mr. Weidmann, in a recent interview with Spanish newspaper El Mundo, said it was “misguided” to focus on candidates’ nationality rather than their qualifications. “And if one particular country can put forward a compelling candidate who fits the bill, then we ought to be grateful,” he said. “This, of course, applies to Spain as well.”

Germans have waited patiently for the top ECB post since the bank’s creation two decades ago. Berlin in recent years has watched helplessly, though hardly silently, as the Italian Mr. Draghi pushed through policies anathema to Germany’s devotion to saving and sensitivities about inflation, such as buying government bonds and pushing interest rates below zero.

Germany has a strong claim to choose the next ECB President. Mr. Draghi’s predecessors,

Wim Duisenberg

and

Jean-Claude Trichet,

came from the Netherlands and France respectively, two top-tier eurozone economies. Many believe Germany’s turn is next.

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