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Axel Weber's retirement dashes Germany's hopes for the ECB presidency

Berlin had thought Bundesbank President Axel Weber had a strong chance of becoming the next president of the European Central Bank. But Weber announced his early retirement Friday, leaving Chancellor Merkel in a lurch.

Axel Weber

Weber cited 'personal reasons' for his decision to retire a year early

Axel Weber will step down as president of Germany's central bank this April, foiling Chancellor Angela Merkel's hopes of seeing a German become the European Central Bank's (ECB) next president.

Weber had previously been seen as a forerunner to succeed ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet in October, but German government spokesman Steffen Seibert gave official confirmation Friday to rumors that Weber had removed himself from consideration for the post and would also leave the Bundesbank early.

"Bundesbank president Axel Weber told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he would like to step down on April 30, 2011, at the end of his seventh year in office," Seibert said, following a meeting between Merkel, Weber and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

"The chancellor and finance minister … took note of his decision with respect for his personal reasons," Seibert said, without elaborating.

Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble

Merkel and Schäuble must concentrate on other means to push Berlin's agenda of financial reforms

"A successor will be communicated during the course of the next week," Merkel's head spokesman added

Under pressure

The 53-year-old banker's withdrawal from the running for ECB president leaves Germany without a serious contender for the position, and could put pressure on Merkel to impose tough fiscal rules on eurozone partners to satisfy voters ahead of seven state elections in Germany.

Earlier, Schäuble said Germany was prepared to accept a non-German to lead the ECB. He told reporters that Germany's priority was agreeing a "comprehensive package" to help stem the bloc's debt woes.

"Germany has never insisted that the next ECB president be a German," Schäuble said, adding, "We now want to solve the question of institutional reform in the Eurogroup."

"Once that is solved we will discuss the question of who is the best candidate (for the ECB)."

Weber's career as president of the Bundesbank has been marked by his hardline stance on inflation and his criticism of the ECB for buying up ailing eurozone member countrys' bonds in order to bolster Europe's common currency during its debt crisis.

Eurozone to decide

Jean-Claude Trichet points toward the camera in front of a euro symbol

Europe is on the lookout for a new successor to ECB President Trichet

Leaders from the 17-nation eurozone are expected to approve a successor to Trichet by summer and will likely take their cue from Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who plan to put forth a joint “competetiveness pact” for wide-reaching economic reform in the eurozone.

Italian Economics Minister Giulio Tremonti has proposed Mario Draghi, the Bank of Italy's governor, as an "excellent" candidate for Trichet's position, while other contenders for the post include Luxembourg's Yves Mersch and Finnish central Bank chief Erkki Liikanen, known to be a monetary policy moderate.

Author: David Levitz (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Editor: Susan Houlton

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