France insists it backs Draghi as ECB head

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France insisted Wednesday that it supported without reservation Italian central bank head Mario Draghi to become the next head of the European Central Bank.

"The support France gives to Mario Draghi is not qualified," French government spokesman Francois Baroin said when asked whether backing from Paris was conditional to France gaining a seat on the ECB board.

ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet of France stands down in October and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has insisted that, under an unwritten rule, the major eurozone countries should each have a seat on the ECB executive board.

To ensure a continued French presence, Sarkozy agreed earlier this year with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to support Draghi on the basis that Italian ECB board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi would make way for a French candidate.

Berlusconi has asked Smaghi to resign but he has refused to budge, insisting that the ECB, the guardian of the euro, is an independent body which does not bow to political pressure.

"Italy has given its word. I have no reason to doubt its word," Sarkozy said last week.

In parliament on Wednesday, French junior minister for trade Pierre Lellouche said that "as soon as Draghi's appointment to the ECB is done, France will be able to claim that it should have a seat on the ECB board."

A source in the French presidency said the issue was not whether Smaghi would make way or not, but rather which post he gets afterwards.

Last week, a key European Parliament committee approved Draghi's appointment to head the ECB following a US-style confirmation hearing.

The full parliament is due to ratify the decision on June 23, the same day European Union leaders open a summit at which they are to give their final endorsement.

© 2011 AFP

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