BRUSSELS - The outgoing president of the Eurogroup said on Thursday that euro zone finance ministers were likely to reject a European Commission proposal to create an EU finance minister combining the roles of commissioner and Eurogroup chair.
The bloc's executive unveiled a package of measures aimed at strengthening the 19-country euro zone, including the creation of a European Minister of Economy and Finance who could take office at the end of 2019.
"I think the Eurogroup will insist on having its own chair," Jeroen Dijsselbloem told lawmakers in the European Parliament's economic committee, dismissing the "double-hatting" idea.
"There is a strong sense in the Eurogroup that there should be a distinction between the role of the Eurogroup, which is a group of ministers, and the role of the Commission, which is the guardian of the treaties," said Dijsselbloem, a former Dutch finance minister who will make way for Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno in mid-January.
He said the commission's ideas on the new role were "very broad and also still quite vague".
The commission said the new minister would "be responsible for identifying an appropriate fiscal policy for the euro area as a whole," according to a document published on Wednesday.
"Does it mean the EU minister of finance gets control over national budgets? That would be a huge step, but would also raise huge issues," Dijsselbloem said, citing concerns over democratic legitimacy and constitutional issues.
Most money spent by governments goes on policies that are under full national competence, such as healthcare, welfare, pensions and education, Dijsselbloem said.
"If you have such a direct influence over the budget, you should also have some influence over where it is spent," he stressed.
The commission has tried in past months to increase its influence over the overall fiscal stance of the euro zone, in a bid to favour investments by countries in better shape, like Germany. Those attempts were blocked in the Eurogroup.
The EU executive is already in charge of monitoring the national budgets of EU members and can propose sanctions for states breaching common fiscal rules, which require governments to keep their deficits and debt levels under control.
Brussels can recommend policy measures to improve a country's fiscal stance, but cannot decide over how money is spent at the national level.
If the commission were given powers to influence national expenses on social issues or other policies under national competence, a change to the EU constitutional treaty would be required.
The commission made it clear on Wednesday that its proposal would not require a treaty change.
"The establishment of a European Minister of Economy and Finance could be pursued (..) within existing Treaty arrangement," it said in a document.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Hugh Lawson)