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INTERVIEW-Austrian finance minister backs Eurogroup chief to see out mandate

VIENNA, Aug 31 (Reuters) - The head of the Eurogroup of finance ministers should keep his post until his term ends in January even if he loses his job as minister at home, Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling said on Thursday.

There has been widespread speculation that Jeroen Dijsselbloem will lose his European post, which must be held by a finance minister, given his Labour party's poor showing in the last Dutch parliamentary election.

But he has kept his role while negotiations on forming a new coalition government have dragged on for months.

"Interestingly there is no rule on whether someone can see out their mandate if they are no longer a minister," Schelling told Reuters in an interview.

Schelling cited the German parliamentary election on Sept. 24 as one reason not to "weaken" the group by changing its head, adding that euro zone finance ministers had not yet discussed who should succeed Dijsselbloem.

"If surprisingly the Netherlands were to form a government -- they have been working on it for a long time -- and it happened in, say, September, then my personal opinion is that Jeroen Dijsselbloem should see out his mandate until January and that in the meantime the time should be used to agree on a succession plan," Schelling said.

Schelling's conservative People's Party is running first in opinion polls ahead of Austria's parliamentary election on Oct. 15. He said whether he kept his job would depend on coalition talks but he hoped to stay on in the finance minister role.

Schelling also said he backed the idea of developing the euro zone's European Stability Mechanism (ESM) rescue fund into a European monetary fund.

"I think this discussion is advisable, sensible and necessary," he said, adding that he was more conservative on how long it would take than his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble, a proponent of the idea.

"It is a long-term project. It won't happen from one day to the next," he said, adding that he thought it would require changes to the European treaty and the issue of how the fund would interact with the International Monetary Fund needed to be settled.

"I don't see it happening in under 3-5 years... If I have understood Wolfgang Schaeuble correctly, he is saying three years," he added. (Reporting by Francois Murphy Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)