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Spanish finance minister backed for leading ECB job

Lorne Cook, Associated Press

FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 file photo, Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos gestures as he arrives for a meeting of EU finance ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels. Eurozone finance ministers on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018 have endorsed their Spanish counterpart Luis de Guindos for the coveted post of European Central Bank vice president, after Ireland withdrew the only other candidate. Spain is the eurozone’s No. 4 economy, but has been absent from the board, which is a key part of the apparatus guiding eurozone monetary policy, for almost six years. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo/File)

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Finance ministers from the 19-country eurozone on Monday endorsed Spain's Luis de Guindos for the coveted post of European Central Bank vice president, after Ireland withdrew the only other candidate.

European Union leaders are expected to anoint de Guindos at a summit on March 22-23, after seeking the opinion of EU lawmakers and the ECB, which oversees the euro currency.

Once that is done, de Guindos will replace Vitor Constancio on June 1 and serve a non-renewable eight-year term.

De Guindos has been Spain's top economy official since late 2011 and has been credited with helping to steer the eurozone's fourth-largest economy back to health following the bursting of a property bubble that triggered worries over the country's banking sector and contributed to a skyrocketing in unemployment.

He said Monday he plans to resign as Spain's economy minister "in the next few days."

His appointment will plug a Spanish gap at the top of the European Union's institutions. No Spanish official holds any other senior EU post. Spain has also been absent from the ECB board for almost six years.

"I think we have found a good candidate," said German Finance Minister Peter Altmaier.

The eurogroup's support for de Guindos came after Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed that the country would not be putting forward Irish central bank governor Philip Lane. Donohoe said it was important for eurozone finance ministers meeting Monday to decide who should get the job by consensus. He wished de Guindos "the best of luck."

France's finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, was quick to announce his country's support for de Guindos, saying that he "has all the skills to be a very good vice president."

Describing de Guindos as "an excellent colleague over several years," EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici played down concerns about the Spaniard being a politician rather than a banker, saying that "he can adapt and be a good vice president."

ECB officials are tasked with doing what's best for the entire eurozone economy, not with representing the interests of their home countries. But that doesn't stop the member states from pushing to get their nationals into prime posts.

The vice president sits on the six-member executive board that runs the bank day to day at its headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. The vice president appears at news conferences alongside the ECB president — currently Mario Draghi of Italy — and is a prominent part of the public face of the bank.

Additionally, each executive board member has responsibility for a key area such as international relations or legal questions. Constancio's brief has been the stability of the financial system and research.

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Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed.