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Portugal favourite for Eurogroup chief job

Finance ministers from four countries, including favourite Portugal, threw their hats into the ring Thursday to replace Jeroen Dijsselbloem as head of the Eurogroup, a job that will involve carrying out major reforms to the euro currency.

Latvia, Slovakia and Luxembourg also announced their candidacies for one of Europe’s most senior jobs, with a final choice expected at the next meeting of the 19 Eurogroup ministers on Monday in Brussels.

“I have decided to put forward my candidacy for the presidency of the Eurogroup (…) with the intention of working towards a necessary consensus to complete Europe’s economic and monetary union,” Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno said in a statement.

His candidacy marks a big turnaround since the worst of the debt crisis for Portugal, which was bailed out in 2011 and enacted painful reforms to put it back on solid economic footing.

Spain is openly backing Centeno, who has also received signs of support from France and Italy, the eurozone’s second and third biggest economies. European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has also backed him.

Slovakia’s Peter Kazimir, often a strong backer of Germany’s austerity-heavy approach, confirmed his candidacy on Twitter, saying that “I see the Eurozone as engine of European integration.”

In a surprise, Latvian Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola, 36 and a former chess master, is also running, a diplomat told AFP.

Their bids come soon after the EU’s eastern member states were painfully overlooked in favour of France and the Netherlands to be the new hosts for EU agencies forced to leave London after Brexit.

Luxembourg’s Pierre Gramegna also confirmed his candidacy, a spokeswoman said in an email to AFP.

– ‘Europe needs to be stronger’ –

Elected for two and a half years, the head of the Eurogroup chairs the monthly meetings of finance ministers of the 19 countries that use the euro, with the main responsiblity of coordinating the often clashing economic policies and priorities of its members.

Former Dutch finance minister Dijsselbloem must step down as Eurogroup head after losing his ministerial job following a poor election result in the Netherlands earlier this year.

The job is one of Europe’s top posts, with the holder considered one of the EU’s “five presidents” along with European Commission head Juncker and European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi.

The role was especially crucial during the tumultuous years of the eurozone debt crisis and Greek bailout negotiations, when the bloc’s ministers faced the daunting task of saving the euro currency from near collapse.

Ministers have a myriad of considerations in selecting a candidate, including nationality and political leaning, with Centano’s socialist party widely considered to be due a top post.

According to media reports, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa discussed the job on Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the eurozone’s most influential leader, at an EU-Africa summit in Africa.

“Europe needs to be stronger and more united and we are ready to work towards that,” Costa said on the sidelines of the summit.