Greece likely to ask Duisenberg to stay longer

BRUSSELS – Greek officials said yesterday they had no comment on a reported proposal by the Greek EU presidency to ask European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg to stay in office an extra six months because of his designated successor’s legal problems. «No comment. We will follow the procedures that are set out by the ECB,» said Nikos Christodoulakis, Greece’s finance minister. But a high Greek government source said: «It is desirable for Duisenberg to stay on at least until September. From what I know, it was something that everyone wanted to give the Trichet matter more time to be cleared up.» The Dutch central banker is due to step down in July. His succession has been thrown into doubt by a pending court verdict due on June 18 involving his long-designated successor, Bank of France Governor Jean-Claude Trichet, over a Credit Lyonnais banking scandal in the early 1990s. The Belgian news agency Belga, citing unnamed informed sources, said yesterday that Greece would propose the six-month extension of Duisenberg’s term at an informal meeting of EU finance ministers on April 4 and 5 in Athens. Greek and EU diplomats said they were not aware of any such plan although they expected ministers to discuss what to do about Duisenberg’s retirement plans during the Athens meeting. Duisenberg took office in 1998, officially for an eight-year term, but he agreed from the outset to retire early to make way for Trichet and had announced his intention to step down on his 68th birthday on July 9. One EU diplomat said there had been a discussion of the timing issue at a technical working group of EU financial officials on Thursday, at which the French had raised the question of the feasibility of an extension for Duisenberg. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is also his country’s finance minister, said last week it would be good if Duisenberg stayed in office longer because of the uncertainty over his successor. Duisenberg has led the ECB since the launch of common monetary policy in January 1999 and has held the presidency since mid-1998. Under a political deal, the French are expected to name a successor for Duisenberg, who has said he is willing to stay beyond July if needed.

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