Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti on Tuesday scotched media speculation he might succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as chairman of the euro group of euro zone finance ministers, saying he had his hands full fixing Italy's economic emergency which he stressed is still not over.
At a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Monti, who is also economy minister, chose to respond to a question directed at Merkel about whether she felt he would be well suited to become chairman of the so-called euro group.
Do you think the Italian prime minister can take on other tasks? Monti asked rhetorically, while adding that the fact that his name had been put forward in some quarters should be seen as a positive sign for Italy.
French daily Le Monde reported on Monday that Monti had been asked by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy to take over from Juncker, whose term ends in June.
Merkel declined to comment on Juncker's successor, while EU officials told Reuters on Monday that Monti had not been offered the job and several candidates were in the frame and it was also possible that Juncker would carry on for another term.
Monti and Merkel were both at pains not to appear complacent about the euro zone, stressing the work to be done even though Greece has avoided the immediate threat of default and market pressure has eased on countries such as Italy and Spain.
The euro crisis has shown us our weak points and we want to resolve those weak points together, Merkel said.
They announced that the two countries would hold a summit meeting in Italy this summer.
Monti, who is locked in negotiations with trade unions over a crucial reform of Italy's labour market, said the two leaders shared the view that the euro zone must continue to focus firmly on fiscal stability but also pay more attention to growth.
We are firmly convinced we are not at the end of the path towards making Europe more competitive, said Merkel, who praised Monti's courageous reform efforts since becoming prime minister in November as Italy grappled with a spiralling debt crisis.
Italian benchmark bond yields have since declined to around 5 percent from above 8 percent, partly due to tough austerity measures and pension reform the former European competition commissioner rushed through soon after taking office.
However, Monti stressed that while Italy appeared to have averted a Greek-style financial crisis, it would be fatal to relax. We have still not even overcome the emergency, he said.
(Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by James Dalgleish)