MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - The euro area needs a full-time financial leader to better respond to its sovereign debt crisis, Eurogroup leader Jean-Claude Juncker said on Saturday, signaling that the pressures of the job are too much.
Juncker, Luxembourg’s veteran prime minister who coordinates finance ministers in the 17 countries that share the euro, appeared to soften to criticism that the strain of juggling two posts may be aggravating the two-year-long debt crisis.
“Given the way I have to fulfill the job, I am increasingly of the opinion that it would be a reasonable step to have a Eurogroup president. It is taking half of my working time as prime minister,” he told Reuters at the meeting of the Group of Seven finance ministers in the Mediterranean city of Marseille.
“If we have the European Stability Mechanism, it makes sense to have a full-time president,” he said, referring to the bloc’s permanent rescue fund that will replace the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) from 2013.
Juncker, an EU deal broker for two decades, is due to give up chairing the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers in January.
His rhetorical missteps and inability to bring the bloc to speak with one voice over the past few months have unnerved financial markets.
Some of his recent comments, including that he favored “secret, dark debates,” have fostered a sense of disarray and prompted France and Germany to favor more powers for European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and possibly give him an enlarged role as coordinator and spokesman for the euro.
“There are some finance ministers who come up with more problems than they solve,” said a senior European Union official who declined to be named, referring to the inability of the Eurogroup under Juncker’s leadership to come up with an agreement ahead of the July 21 EU leaders summit.
SCHAEUBLE THE Favorite
The executive European Commission is due to consider proposals to improve economic governance in October that could include a greater role for the Council.
Juncker said he had yet to make up his mind whether he favored a separate Eurogroup president or a greater role for the European Council, which comprises the heads of government of the EU’s 27 member states.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is now the favorite to succeed Juncker, German magazine Focus reported on Saturday, citing diplomatic sources.
The magazine quoted sources as saying the euro zone needed a tough politician who could enforce policy, supporting the idea that Juncker’s successor should have the Eurogroup chairmanship as his sole role to focus properly on the job.
Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in Berlin and Luke Baker in Brussels, editing by Mike Peacock