Likely new Dutch Eurogroup boss is austere and unknown

17th January 2013, Comments 1 comment

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem's reputation as a slightly stuffy bridge-builder will serve him well if, as expected, he becomes the head of the Eurogroup, coordinating austerity policies in the crisis-hit eurozone.

But Dijsselbloem, 46, will have just 11 weeks of ministerial experience on Monday, when the relative unknown is tipped to begin leading the battle against the 17-member eurozone's worst crisis ever.

The Dutchman announced his apparent sole candidacy to parliament on Thursday, and now appears set to get the job.

"A staggering strategist," according to Dutch financial daily the Financieele Dagblad, Dijsselbloem -- pronounced 'day-sell-bloom' -- is also, says the centre-left De Volkskrant, "a little stuffy and as loyal as a guide dog."

Protestant daily Trouw describes the curly haired minister with a slightly pinched face as "a likeable man behind a mask of rigidity."

"He's an affable man in private but always very serious when you talk about work," said Staf Depla, who along with Dijsselbloem and current Labour leader Diederick Samsom was part of the so-called "Red Engineers".

The three men took their name from their scientific backgrounds -- Dijsselbloem studied agricultural economics in the Netherlands and business economics in Ireland -- and campaigned for 2003 elections by visiting low-income neighbourhoods and calling for better integration of Muslim immigrants.

Campaigning in appropriately red jumpsuits, the trio shocked the Labour (PvdA) party's old guard by suggesting that immigrants had duties and should be educated about Dutch society -- ideas more usually associated with the far-right.

Dijsselbloem acquired a reputation as a strategist, quietly working away from the limelight, and for years held planning roles within the Labour party.

His focus was on education, healthcare, asylum policy and youth -- but not finance or the economy.

"He doesn't yet have much experience (in finance) and he will have to listen carefully to what the other (eurozone finance) ministers say," said Thomas Cool, a former economist with the Dutch Central Statistics Office (CBS).

"But he is very able," Cool told AFP.

Positioned on the Labour party's right, Dijsselbloem shares his party's pro-European vision, backing balanced budgets and austerity measures.

He emerged as a compromise candidate because he comes from one of the few remaining top AAA-rated countries, which is also a founding EU member, he is Social Democrat like the government in France, and backs austerity like Germany.

But some commentators have said Dijsselbloem could become a key ally for French President Francois Hollande in his battle against German-led austerity.

"He could perhaps be seen as some sort of ally for France against Germany -- but in the end he will push the Dutch cabinet's line," which has in the past echoed German sentiment, Cool said.

Like some other top EU officials, the most remarkable thing about Dijsselbloem is how little known he is, even in the Netherlands.

"Dijsselbloem is a blank page and choosing him as finance minister was a surprise because he's never had a financial profile as a politician," said Bas Jacobs, economist at Rotterdam's Erasmus University.

"It's too early really to have a proper idea of what he thinks and what he does, what his financial and economic positions are, what his position is on the euro, he hasn't really spoken about it," said Jacobs. "It's a big mystery to me."

His low-profile led French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici to demand on Wednesday that Dijsselbloem explain his vision for the eurozone.

Dijsselbloem was born in the eastern city of Eindhoven, into a largely apolitical family.

His political awakening came aged 15 when he took part, against his parents' will, in a protest against a Cold War missile installation in 1983.

He was raised in a Catholic environment and many of his family members, including his parents, grandmother, uncle and aunts, were teachers.

Before becoming minister, Dijsselbloem was best known in the Netherlands for arguing in parliament for less violent music videos on MTV, based upon his experiences visiting immigrant neighbourhoods, acquiring the nickname of "moral knight".

A father to a teenaged son and daughter, Dijsselbloem has cited Dutch left-wing wartime leader Wiardi Beckman, who died in Dachau after being arrested by the Nazis in 1942, as his greatest political inspiration.

He is also an admirer of trumpet great Miles Davis and of British comedy series "Monty Python's Flying Circus".

In an interview at the end of December, Dijsselbloem told De Volkskrant that as finance minister he was "Father Christmas in reverse."

"Because I have to make sure that no presents are handed out, and that everyone pays up on time," he said of the unenviable role that he will now have to bring to bear upon the eurozone.

© 2013 AFP

1 Comment To This Article

  • carrico posted:

    on 18th January 2013, 05:30:08 - Reply

    "...and now for something completely different."