Emmanuel Macron has mocked Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann for his “belated” change of heart on the European Central Bank’s crisis-fighting efforts, in a blow to the German policymaker’s chances of succeeding Mario Draghi.
Mr Weidmann, who has been a perennial hawk on the ECB’s rate-setting governing council, earlier this week backtracked on his previous opposition to some of the bank’s most controversial policies, saying the outright monetary transactions (OMT) programme was “legal” and “current policy”.
OMT, under which the ECB can buy government bonds in potentially unlimited quantities as long as member states sign up to rescue packages, was developed after Mr Draghi pledged in July 2012 to do “whatever it takes” to save the eurozone from a messy break-up. At the time Mr Weidmann told the German constitutional court that it would pave the way for financing of governments by the central bank — a contravention of EU law.
On Friday Mr Macron joked about Mr Weidmann’s change of heart.
I think it shows that we all have good in us and that we can all improve. And so I draw from that, above all, a lesson to be optimistic on the human spirit
Speaking at the end of a two-day European Council summit, Mr Macron said: “I am very happy that the members who at the time strongly opposed, and who even took legal action, against the decisions of Mario Draghi, against OMT, against all the mechanisms put in place, have been converted, perhaps belatedly, but with gusto.”
The French president drew laughter in the press room when he added in a tongue-in-cheek fashion: “I think it shows that we all have good in us and that we can all improve. And so I draw from that, above all, a lesson to be optimistic on the human spirit.”
His remarks, which came a day after European leaders met in Brussels to discuss a host of top EU jobs, including the ECB presidency, are the clearest signal yet that Paris is not reconciled to the idea of supporting Mr Weidmann’s candidacy.
The German central banker’s chances of securing the top job have risen as the prospects of his compatriot Manfred Weber of becoming European Commission president have ebbed.
France’s acquiescence would be essential for any German seeking to secure the top seat at the ECB — but Mr Macron has kept quiet on whether he would accept Mr Weidmann at the central bank in exchange for the European Commission presidency going to one of his preferred candidates.
Mr Draghi is set to step down at the end of October. He is openly hostile to Mr Weidmann succeeding him, implying in a speech this week that the Bundesbank president’s outspoken attacks on ECB policies had stoked the rise of populism.
Mr Draghi received a standing ovation from EU leaders on Friday morning, in what was likely to be his final appearance at a European Council summit. Mr Macron praised Mr Draghi, saying: “We make all these communiqués that everyone has forgotten two weeks later. He, on a summer’s day in 2012, he said just a few words, ‘whatever it takes’, and the response was immediate, and the memory is still bright.”
Other names in the running to succeed Mr Draghi include two French candidates: Banque de France governor François Villeroy de Galhau and ECB executive board member Benoît Cœuré.
Current Bank of Finland governor Olli Rehn and his predecessor Erkki Liikanen are also in the frame, along with Dutch central bank governor Klaas Knot.
Additional reporting by Mehreen Khan in Brussels
Copyright The Financial Times Limited . All rights reserved. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.