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Four candidates battle for top eurozone job

Portugal's Mario Centeno - Mario Centeno, 50, was a relative political novice when he entered Portugal's socialist government in November 2015.

[BRUSSELS] Four countries have put forward candidates to succeed former Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijssebloem as head of the Eurogroup, the meeting of finance ministers from the 19 countries that use the single currency.

Here is a list of the contenders:

Portugal's Mario Centeno - Mario Centeno, 50, was a relative political novice when he entered Portugal's socialist government in November 2015.

But the one-time economics professor and central banker has become the face of the economic success of his bailed out country, until recently one of the weakest links in the euro area.

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Unknown to the Portuguese when he entered government, he is often described as a centrist because of his tough and often controversial stand in favour of greater flexibility in the country's labour market.

He is now a heavyweight in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who came to power in an alliance with the radical left on the promise to "turn the page" from the austerity policies of the previous centre-right government.

Affable and jovial, Mr Centeno is credited for restoring some of the purchasing power lost by the Portuguese during the crisis and its 2011 bailout.

Latvia's Dana Reizniece-Ozola - Dana Reizniece-Ozola, the youngest contender at just 36, was appointed Latvian finance minister in February 2016 after holding the economy minister's job for two years before that.

Little known in Brussels, she belongs to a small centre-right party affiliated to the populist "Alliance of Greens and Farmers".

A grandmaster chess player since the age of 16, Ms Reizniece-Ozola competes for Latvia in international chess tournaments, even occasionally taking time off from her ministerial duties to do so.

She has had a long-standing interest in space, having attended the International Space University in France and trained at the Nasa Space and Rocket Center in the United States.

But her chances of obtaining the influential post are weakened by the fact that while a member of the Latvian Parliament in 2012 she argued in favour of delaying Latvia's membership of the eurozone, saying the government of Valdis Dombrovskis (now the European commissioner in charge of the euro) was "leaping into the eurozone crisis".

Nevertheless, euro accession went ahead as planned on Jan 1, 2014 and in later votes she backed euro adoption.

Slovakia's Peter Kazimir - Peter Kazimir, 49, worked for several years in real estate and corporate restructuring, then in banking, before joining the Slovak government and being appointed finance minister in 2012.

Mr Kazimir gained some notoriety in 2015 for his especially harsh words on Twitter against the Greek government, during Greece's raucous bailout negotiations with the eurozone - a stance he later regretted.

He has worked hard to brush up his image as a consensus builder, most notably when Slovakia held the rotating presidency of the European Union (EU) last year.

Mr Kazimir also promotes himself as a much needed link between the eurozone and the mostly non-euro members of eastern Europe, such as Poland and Hungary, where governments are increasingly turning their backs on the EU.

Luxembourg's Pierre Gramegna - A career diplomat, Pierre Gramegna, 59, is Luxembourg's former ambassador to South Korea and Japan and joined the government at the end of 2013 as finance minister.

Luxembourg's historic opposition to deeper integration on tax matters could be detrimental to his bid, given the recent revelations from Luxleaks and other tax scandals.

According to several European sources, his predecessor and former Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker, now the president of the European Commission, is also cool to his candidacy.

However, a fluent speaker of English, French and German, his candidacy is considered a compromise choice in case no other name emerges in the vote on Monday.