Thursday 22 March 2018

Newsmaker - Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Dutch Finance Minister

Jeroen Dijsselbloem met Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis last week
Jeroen Dijsselbloem met Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis last week

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch Finance Minister and head of the 19-member Eurogroup, is likely to dominate headlines this week as one of the key players in any decisions involving the future of Greece.

Educated partly in Cork, Mr Dijsselbloem is famous among colleagues for his desire to keep meetings short and return home to his young family.

This week he faces a serious test just over two years after taking on the chair of the Eurogroup in January 2013.

He met Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis last week which led to a fairly tense moment when the latter said the Greek government would no longer deal with the troika. Mr Dijsselbloem was seen to raise his eyebrows and then abruptly get up and leave the table. He then shook Mr Varoufakis's hand and was seen whispering something, reportedly the words: "You have just killed the troika."

The two men will meet again on Wednesday, when Eurozone ministers gather in Brussels.

So who is Mr Dijsselbloem?

The Dutchman is a polished performer in front of the cameras, who sometime appears trapped and defined by the financial crisis despite telling his colleagues back in 2013 that he wanted to move on from simply fighting the crisis to focus on longer-term policies to cement fledgling confidence.

Mr Dijsselbloem succeeded Jean Claude Juncker - now European Commission president - with remarkably little experience under his belt.

Indeed, he was only appointed to his country's finance job three months before becoming head of the Eurogroup. That meant he was a relative unknown in European politics. Indeed, following his appointment, many within the Brussels press corps had difficulties getting to grips with how to pronounce his name.

But he seemed to follow a Brussels pattern of appointing relative unknowns to high-profile positions, the most prominent examples of which include Herman Van Rompuy, the former President of the European Council, and Catherine Ashton, the EU's first foreign policy chief.

Within months, Mr Dijsselbloem sparked controversy when he frightened the markets in the wake of the Cypriot bailout deal - in which wealthy depositors and senior bond holders got burned - by suggesting it could be a template for other rescue packages.

His plain speaking proved to be correct; the Cyprus bailout was the template proposed for further financial crises.

The Dutch man has an affinity with Ireland as he spent some time in Cork while studying for his master's degree. But even if he possesses a knowledge of the country from his time here, his reputation as a stickler for tough fiscal discipline and closeness to Germany means he could never really be a strong Irish ally.

Jeroen Rene Victor Anton Dijsselbloem was born in Eindhoven in 1966 but now lives in the town of Wageningen in central Netherlands. He graduated from Wageningen University in 1991 with a degree in agricultural economics, before travelling to Cork to carry out business economics research on his master's degree at UCC.

His political career kicked off the following year when he worked as an assistant to the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) and members of the European Parliament in Brussels, before joining the staff of the parliamentary PvdA in The Hague in 1993, where he worked for three years as a policy officer in the area of spatial planning.

He became a member of the Dutch House of Representatives from 2000 to 2002, and then until he took up his post as a minister.

Irish Independent

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