New ECB chief economist, a Belgian with German heritage

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Peter Praet, named Tuesday to the influential post of European Central Bank chief economist, is a career Belgian economist who spent the first 17 years of his life in Germany.

Born in Herchen, Germany, to a German married to a Belgian military doctor, the bearded, bespectacled economist appears a compromise choice to settle a battle between France and Germany over the highly-coveted job.

Praet, who joined the ECB's executive board in June, takes over from Germany's Juergen Stark, whose decision to quit was linked to his opposition to the bank's purchase of bonds from troubled eurozone states.

In a December 9 speech in Vienna, Praet, who turns 63 later this month, backed the ECB's central mission to defend the euro from inflation.

"We at the ECB take our responsibilities. Monetary policy in the euro area will remain dedicated to our mandate, which is to maintain price stability over the medium term," he said.

"The ECB will continue to remain an anchor of confidence and stability, in a global economy characterised by marked uncertainties," Praet said, according to a copy of the speech on the ECB website.

"This is the central contribution we can make to foster sustainable growth, job creation and financial stability in the euro area as a whole."

He worked as an economist at the International Monetary Fund in Washington from 1978 to 1980 before teaching banking and monetary union at the Brussels Free University, the same institution where he earned his doctorate.

After a seven-year stint as an economics professor, he worked for 12 years as chief economist at Generale de Banque, which later became Fortis Bank in a merger.

Praet was chief of staff for then Belgian finance minister Didier Reynders between 1999 and 2000, before becoming executive director at the National Bank of Belgium, a post he held for a decade.

His new appointment at the ECB came as a surprise since two board members, Joerg Asmussen of Germany and Benoit Coeure of France, had been seen as the top rival candidates to take over the economics portfolio.

© 2012 AFP

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