Jockeying Begins for IMF Position

Is there some kind of rule which says that high-profile international technocrats

have to be French? Sometimes it

seems so:

France has had its fair share of IMF heads as Frenchmen have led the institution

for more than 30 of its 61 years of existence, and also have Jean-Claude

Trichet in charge of the European Central Bank, Pascal Lamy

at the World Trade Organization and Jean Lemierre at the

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The story here is that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former

French finance minister, is already heir apparent to Rodrigo Rato as

managing director of the IMF. One point in his favor: he’s utterly failed to

become president of France, so he’s not going to pull a Horst Köhler

and quit to become president of his own country. French president Nicolas

Sarkozy has already started working the phones for Strauss-Kahn, long

before any other country has even so much as come up with a candidate of its

own. As the WSJ drily

puts it, "France nearly always has a stable of candidates for these

international posts."

The Bank of England’s Mervyn King seems to have dropped out

of the running, perhaps because UK finance minister Alistair Darling

has decided to take

the high road and say that the job should go to the most qualified candidate,

regardless of nationality. As if. Darling’s sentiment is noble, to be sure,

but with the US already having said that it will support Europe’s candidate,

the final outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Of course, there are many more countries which count as European these days

than did in 1946 when Belgium’s Camille Gutt became the Fund’s

first MD. Which means that the next leader of the IMF could be a European and

come from a developing country: Poland’s Leszek Balcerowicz,

for instance, is on the

BBC’s list of possible names.

Officially, the IMF is accepting nominations from

any country, just like it did three years ago, when Egypt nominated Mohamed

El-Erian. And it’s quite likely that this time around the non-European

candidate will get more votes than El-Erian did last time, if there’s a strong

candidate put forward. A non-European leading the IMF is a bit like gay marriage:

everybody knows it’s inevitable sooner or later, but it does seem to take an

eternity before we get there. Maybe what’s needed is someone who already has

a job running an international institution, ideally in France. Angel

Gurría would be an excellent choice, I think – the former

Mexican finance minister is now secretary-general of the OECD, in Paris. He

also, according to Wikipedia,

"speaks eleven languages including: Spanish, French, English, Portuguese,

Italian and German." That’s gotta help, no?

In the meantime, the world could do worse than Strauss-Kahn. He’s qualified

for the job, he’s broadly respected, and he fits right in to a tradition of

bold-face French technocrats including Jacques de Larosière

and Michel Camdessus. And from Sarkozy’s point of view, of

course, his appointment would also have the added bonus of meaning that one

of his key political opponents would be shipped off to Washington where he could

do very little harm.

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