The biggest barrier to Jens Weidmann‘s candidacy for the European Central Bank has a name: Manfred Weber.
Mr Weber, a Bavarian who leads the largest bloc in the European Parliament, is said to be preparing a bid to replace Jean-Claude Juncker when he stands down as European Commission president next autumn.
The problem for Mr Weidmann, the current Bundesbank chief, is that convention dictates that Germans can‘t occupy two of Europe‘s most senior posts at the same time.
Chancellor has concluded that it is more useful to Germany to secure the commission post than the top ECB job, according to sources familiar with her thinking.
Yet Mr Weber, a member of Ms Merkel‘s Bavarian sister party, isn‘t a shoo-in, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified while discussing internal party deliberations.
Some in her Christian Democratic Union favour Peter Altmaier, a Merkel confidant and Germany‘s economy minister.
It‘s a sign that jockeying by the European Union‘s governments, its political factions and Europe‘s leaders is heating up.
Their choices will influence the EU‘s course for years to come on everything from monetary policy to how the bloc deals with populist challengers. In fact, Germany‘s shift away from Mr Weidmann was under way six months ago, according to the sources. It is coming to the fore now because the selection of candidates to head the commission opens in early September, one of them said.
Ms Merkel, when recently asked about the race, framed her reply in the context of who the European People‘s Party – the umbrella body which includes her CDU – will nominate as its candidate for commission president. That post and the ECB presidency are up for grabs in the autumn of 2019, after elections to the European Parliament next May.
“The discussion about upcoming personnel decisions in connection with the European Parliament election is slowly starting now,” Ms Merkel said in Tbilisi, Georgia.
“There has been no decision whatsoever and the post of European Central Bank president comes up only much later.”
Ms Merkel has reason to hedge her bets: she and her Bavarian allies are fresh from a clash over migration that led to a coalition rift in June.
While Mr Weber and Mr Altmaier are broadly pro-European, they have differed in tone on refugee policy and come from opposite sides of the recently patched-up divide.
Mr Weber (46) declined to comment when asked about his ambitions. The European People‘s Party is likely to need the support of liberal parties to install the next European Commission head.
If the maths doesn‘t come together, Germany might shift its sights back to the top ECB post, one of the sources said.
The calculation in Berlin may be that having a German in charge at a time of disruption – ranging from US protectionism to Russian aggression – outweighs the ECB chief‘s powers.
According to one of the people familiar with the government‘s thinking, it might be better for Germany if a non-German takes over at the ECB but pursues the same policy.
That could indicate a fellow northern European.
Finland‘s Erkki Liikanen or Olli Rehn, Estonia‘s Ardo Hansson and Klaas Knot of the Netherlands are among the names being mentioned by economists.
If Ms Merkel holds back, French President Emmanuel Macron might gain more room to push candidates from his country, such as Bank of France governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau or ECB executive board member Benoit Coeure. (Bloomberg)