LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal's prime minister said Tuesday the country's finance minister was recently asked whether he would be available to become the eurozone's top official, replacing Jeroen Dijsselbloem.
Antonio Costa said in an interview with Lisbon's Radio Renascenca that Portugal rejected the approach because Finance Minister Mario Centeno is still guiding the country out of its recent financial crisis.
Costa did not say who approached Portugal nor when, but he confirmed a report in Portuguese weekly Expresso last weekend that said Centeno was a potential candidate to chair meetings of the 19-country eurozone's finance ministers.
Portugal called last month for Dijsselbloem to quit after he made what some saw as derogatory remarks about southern EU nations.
In an interview last month with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Dijsselbloem said: "I cannot spend all my money on liquor and women and then ask for your support," in reference to European countries that needed state bailouts. Those countries include three from southern Europe — Greece, Portugal, and Cyprus — as well as Ireland.
Dijsselbloem's future is unclear after his Labor Party's weak showing in recent Dutch elections and he faced fierce criticism in the European Parliament this week for not attending a meeting.
Leftist German European lawmaker Fabio De Masi called Dijsselbloem "gutless" for not showing up and said his comments in the German newspaper "demonstrate his incompetence and utter lack of character."
In a letter to members of the European Parliament on Tuesday, Dijsselbloem said his comments in the interview were intended to underscore "the importance of solidarity and reciprocity within the European Union" and were not aimed at southern EU member states.
But he also expressed regret at having caused offense.
"Choice of words is of course personal as is the way they are picked up," Dijsselbloem wrote. "I shall be even more careful in the future as it is never my intention to insult people."
Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed.