Meet the new euro zone finance chief, who’s promising a fresh response for the embattled region

  • The current finance minister of Portugal is taking over one of the most important positions in the euro zone on January 13
  • After years of economic crisis, Centeno wants to make it clear to European citizens that the efforts they made were worth it and now it's time "to reap the benefits"

Mario Centeno, the incoming president of the Eurogroup, underlined his vision for the region and said that "time and patience is of essence" to reform the euro zone.

The current finance minister of Portugal is taking over one of the most important positions in the euro zone on January 13. Among the many decisions that will face him over the next two-and-a-half years are the completion of the euro zone's banking union and restructuring the Greece's debt.

Speaking exclusively to CNBC in Lisbon, Centeno promised to bring a fresh approach to policymaking after years of austerity. "It's going to be two quite intense years, two and a half," he said about his mandate as Eurogroup chief. The Eurogroup is a regular meeting of the finance ministers of the 19 countries that share the euro.

"It's not really a change on being pro or against austerity, it's understanding that the supply response that we got from the reforms now need to be matched, with some demand response and Europe is in a very good position to do it," he added.

New Eurogroup President Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno gestures during a press conference on his election as new Eurogroup chief at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium on December 4, 2017.
Dursun Aydemir | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
New Eurogroup President Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno gestures during a press conference on his election as new Eurogroup chief at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium on December 4, 2017.

After years of economic crisis, Centeno wants to make it clear to European citizens that the efforts they made were worth it and now it's time "to reap the benefits."

Given that the region has returned to growth and there are new political cycles starting in several European countries, Centeno says there is now a window of opportunity to deepen integration within the euro area.

"We need to complete the banking union," he said, "Completing the banking union means slightly different things for each member of the Eurogroup. We have to try to focus on the common ground that we certainly have, and we do have it, it exists."

In the wake of the sovereign debt crisis, Europe began implementing measures to make its financial system stronger. One of the initiatives was the banking union which increased the supervision on European banks. However, each country has its own idea of how fast and how deep the changes to the financial system should go.

President Emmanuel Macron of France proposed in a speech last September some deep reforms in this regard, including a common budget for the euro zone. In the same speech, Macron proposed the idea of a multi-speed Europe, where certain European countries agreeing on a specific reform should go ahead without waiting for other member states.

In the eyes of Centeno, a multi-speed Europe is not new, but he is open to the idea.

"We do need to make progress, and if this progress has to be tailor made, according to the willingness of countries to go forward faster in specific areas, I think that will not be a problem," Centeno said.