Eurozone backs Spain's De Guindos for ECB top job

The pick of Spain's Economy Minister De Guindos, a eurozone veteran, is the first of a series of changes at the ECB over the coming two years

Eurozone finance ministers backed their Spanish peer Luis De Guindos for the vice-presidency of the European Central Bank on Monday after his only rival pulled out.

The choice by the single currency bloc's finance ministers was widely expected and came despite the reticence of European lawmakers to see a politician take over as number two at the ECB.

The pick of Economy Minister De Guindos, a eurozone veteran, is the first of a series of changes at the ECB over the coming two years, including the post of the chief of the bank currently held by Italian Mario Draghi.

It became a formality after Irish central bank chief Philip Lane pulled out of the race on Monday, just ahead of talks among ministers in Brussels to fill the job.

EU leaders will ultimately choose the successor to Portugal's Vitor Constancio, whose eight-year mandate expires in May, but the ministers choice is widely seen as key.

That decision will be taken on March 22 at an EU summit after consultations with the European Parliament and the ECB's Governing Council.

"The Eurogroup today gave its support to the candidacy of Luis de Guindos for the position of Vice President of the European Central Bank," said a short statement from the group that unites the single currency's 19 member countries.

- Austerity drive -

De Guindos had firmly defended his candidacy, after being previously overlooked as chair of the Eurogroup, saying he was the longest-serving member in the monthly meetings of eurozone finance ministers.

European lawmakers last week said they prefered Ireland's Lane for the job and also regretted that only male candidates had been put forward by member states.

De Guindos, who will step down as minister if confirmed, stressed earlier this month that he has always defended the independence of the ECB and "would continue to do it if I am selected."

The father of two has served as economy minister since Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government came to power in 2011.

In that role, he oversaw the clean-up of Spain's banking industry that collapsed after a housing boom imploded during the worst of the eurozone debt crisis.

In exchange for an EU rescue, Spain had to impose tough austerity measures to reduce the county's public deficit.

Before entering the government, De Guindos led the Iberian unit of Lehman Brothers between 2006 and 2008 before the investment bank collapsed.