Lagarde IMF job: victory for France after scandal
France Tuesday saw victory in Finance Minister Christine Lagarde's nomination as the first female head of the International Monetary Fund Tuesday, after the shame of the last French holder's departure.
The government and Lagarde herself also hailed as a triumph for women her nomination, which will spark an imminent reshuffle in President Nicolas Sarkozy's government.
Lagarde, respected for her leadership during Europe's financial crisis, was chosen to replace fellow French national Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned after his arrest in New York for the alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid.
The arrest had embarrassed French politicians and shocked the political world. The leader of the ruling UMP party Jean Francois Cope had warned that the sight of Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs damaged France's image.
In a statement on Tuesday Cope called the choice of Lagarde "a point of pride for France" and "a chance for Europe."
An official in Sarkozy's office, who asked not to be named, called it "a victory for France," in comments to AFP.
The French presidency has remained virtually silent on the Strauss-Kahn affair, though Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet at the time said France's image had fallen "victim" to it.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement that France "is happy and proud of her success."
Lagarde's first reaction to the nomination came from her account on the online message service Twitter: "I am honoured and delighted that the Board has entrusted me with the position of MD (managing director) of the IMF!"
Shortly afterwards she appeared on TF1 television. Asked if her nomination was a victory for women, she replied "yes".
"In the interview I had with the IMF board there were 24 male administrators, not one single woman," she said.
"When I felt myself being interrogated for three hours by 24 men, I thought it good that things begin to change a bit. We can each bring our difference and our respective qualities."
"The French presidency is delighted that a woman is taking up this major international responsibility," the presidential official added.
Lagarde said her priority was to encourage IMF staff after the drama of Strauss-Kahn's arrest.
"The first thing I want to do is rally the teams... give them confidence, courage and energy," she told TF1.
Beyond that, she is faced with the task of helping settle a crisis in the eurozone as it scrambles to prevent Greece defaulting on its debt.
A French cabinet reshuffle is expected imminently. Sarkozy and his Prime Minister Francois Fillon held a 20-minute meeting at the Elysee presidential palace on Tuesday evening after the IMF announcement.
Fillon left without commenting. An Elysee official said Lagarde would attend the weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning as usual.
Budget minister Francois Baroin, Higher Education Minister Valerie Pecresse and Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire are tipped as favourites to take over the key finance ministry post.
Lagarde meanwhile said she was unfazed by a judicial case hanging over her linked to accusations of conflict of interest.
In May a prosecutor called for a probe into her handling of a high-profile dispute that resulted in a 240-million-euro ($345-million) government payout to flamboyant tycoon Bernard Tapie.
But judges have put off until July 8 the decision on whether a full investigation is merited.
"I am totally calm. I always acted with respect for the law," Lagarde said Tuesday.
"I entered politics scarcely five years ago and I have learned and served a lot," she said on TF1, recalling her days as a teenage synchronized swimming champion.
"I am a competitive swimmer and when it is hard, when you get bad timings, you start again and train again and get back into the pool. That's what I have done also in my life."
© 2011 AFP