Europe fights to keep IMF job, French woman in the running

19th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Europe fought to retain leadership of the IMF on Thursday to help tackle its debt crisis with Christine Lagarde of France clearly a top contender in what would be a first for a woman.

With the ink barely dry on Dominique Strauss-Kahn's letter of resignation from a New York jail cell, European powers claimed the job as theirs, on the grounds of being the biggest contributor to the lender of last resort.

But in a sign of a shift in power and ambitions, Asian countries and also former Soviet republics pressed strongly for an end to the post-World War II convention that the job be held by a European.

In Brussels, a spokeswoman for Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Union executive, said: "Consultations will intensify about this succession and indeed about putting forward a strong European candidate to take up the position."

While several names were in the hat, including the outgoing head of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, 52-year-old Lagarde, finance minister of France since 2007, had been tipped as a possible successor to Strauss-Kahn even before his current troubles.

"One figure whose name comes up in discussions is Christine Lagarde and I must say I am very impressed by her," Sweden's Finance Minister Anders Borg said on national radio. "She has influence and experience."

Commending her as being "a driving force" in Europe's battle against the euro crisis, and "very important" in tackling global financial woes, Borg added that being a women could be an added factor.

"Women are half of the world's population and one can imagine that the competence and influence of women can play a role in this context," he said.

Germany, whose Chancellor Angela Merkel too has called for Europe to keep the IMF job, has offered no candidates of its own for the moment and is believed to be favourable to Lagarde, according to press reports.

Britain appears to have dismissed any idea of backing former premier Gordon Brown and a highly-placed European official this week said London considered Lagarde "certainly a credible candidate."

EU partners were "waiting to see if (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy will put her forward," added the official, who asked not to be named.

A former lawyer, Lagarde is known to have enjoyed her many years working in the United States but has offered no comment on a possible candidacy.

"Any candidacy, whoever's it may be, should come from the Europeans, who unite, all together," she said on Thursday.

But France has provided four of the 11 IMF chiefs since the institution was set up to towards the end of World War II, which may prove Lagarde's biggest drawback.

Lagarde is also facing a judicial investigation on whether she abused her ministerial power in playing a role in a case resulting in a substantial payment to controversial French businessman, Bernard Tapie.

Other possible candidates from Europe include former German central banker Axel Weber, though Berlin has yet officially to offer its backing.

And emerging powers too are stepping loudly into the fray, saying it is time for Europe and the United States to reconsider arrangements to share leadership at the IMF and World Bank between the two.

China, South Korea and Thailand called for the new head to come from an emerging economy, and Japan said the new IMF head should be chosen in an "open, transparent" way.

As China, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and South Africa demanded a voice for rising economies, 12 former Soviet republics came out to back the IMF candidacy of the Kazakhstan central bank chief, Grigory Marchenko.

Others candidates from emerging economies include Turkish former UN official Kemal Dervis, Indian planner Montek Singh Ahluwalia or Mexican central banker Agustin Carstens.

"The make-up of top management should better reflect changes in the global economic structure and better represent emerging markets," said China's central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan.

But asked in Brussels whether the EU would favour a candidate such as Turkey's Dervis, Barroso's spokeswoman insisted that the 27-nation bloc needed to find its own candidate.

"We believe we can identify a strong candidate in the midst of the EU," she said.

© 2011 AFP

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