Eurozone finance ministers on Monday chose Philip Lane, governor of the Irish central bank, to take over the highly influential role of chief economist of the ECB.

The decision now goes to EU leaders and barring a major upset, Lane, who holds a PhD in economics, will take over from Belgian Peter Praet on May 31.

Lane, 49, will hold a key role in deciding monetary policy alongside ECB chief Mario Draghi just as fears of a slowdown in the eurozone are intensifying.

The slowdown comes at an especially tricky time for the ECB, which under pressure by Germany is on course to pull out of a massive stimulus programme despite an increasingly uncertain economic outlook, in part linked to Brexit.

The choice is the first in a series of important nominations at the ECB, with Draghi ending an eight year run as bank chief in October.

Executive board member Benoit Coeure is also set to step down at the end of the year and is one of several names rumoured to be in the running to replace Draghi.

Among other names circulating to replace Draghi are the German Jens Weidmann, the French François Villeroy de Galhau, the Finn Erkki Liikanen and the Estonian Ardo Hansson.

Ireland is the only country among the 11 founding members of the eurozone that has never held a seat on the ECB's Executive Board.

Lane last year ran to take a seat on the board of the ECB, but pulled out in favour of then Spanish finance minister Luis de Guindos.

EU leaders will officially fill the post at an EU summit on March 20 and 21, after consultations with European Parliament.