February 29, 2024

French Minister in the Spotlight for I.M.F. Role

Next to her, Robert Diamond, the chief executive of Barclays and one of the most powerful bankers in the world, was admitting that banks should say “thank you” for their government bailouts.

Ms. Lagarde looked him in the eye. “The best way the banking sector can say thank you is with good financing for the economy, sensible compensation packages and reinforcement of their capital,” she replied, to a burst of applause.

Her straight talk has earned Ms. Lagarde, 55, a reputation as one of Europe’s most influential ambassadors in the world of international finance. Now it is helping to make her perhaps the leading candidate to succeed her friend and colleague, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is likely to be forced to resign his post as managing director of the International Monetary Fund to deal with rape charges stemming from his encounter with a hotel maid in New York on Saturday.

Ms. Lagarde’s strongest selling point, though, is not listed on her résumé.

“What’s happened with Strauss-Kahn underscores how great it would be to have a woman in the role,” said Kenneth Rogoff, a former I.M.F. chief economist who is now a professor at Harvard University. “She is enormously impressive, politically astute and a strong personality. At finance meetings all over the world, she is treated practically like a rock star.”

European officials are frantically maneuvering to keep one of their own in a post Europe has controlled since the I.M.F. and the World Bank were created in the late 1940s. It won’t necessarily be easy. Three years after financial excesses in the United States and Europe brought the world economy to the brink of catastrophe, Mr. Strauss-Kahn has become the latest symbol of what many see as the faults and ailments of the wealthy West.

Appointing just another European, particularly another white middle-aged male, probably won’t fly this time.

The world’s fast-growing emerging economies say they should now get a shot at running a big institution like the I.M.F. or the World Bank, which has traditionally been headed by an American in a long-standing understanding between the two economic powers.

But with Europe facing a drawn-out financial crisis of its own, the world’s leaders may decide it would be more politic to have a European finish serving out Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s term, which ends in 2012, and then install a leader from one of the emerging markets, whose collective economic heft and effect on global markets is starting to eclipse that of the West.

That’s why Ms. Lagarde is seen as Europe’s lifeline. If she gets the post, Ms. Lagarde would be the first woman to run the I.M.F. — or any large international financial institution, for that matter. Her main competition, analysts say, is another policy maker with an alternate profile, Kemal Dervis, a former finance minister of Turkey who is credited with rescuing the economy after it was hit by a devastating financial crisis in 2001, in part by securing a multi-billion dollar loan from the I.M.F. Prior to that, Mr. Dervis worked at the World Bank for 24 years.

But with the I.M.F. overseeing 100 billion euros in loans to Greece, Portugal and Ireland, Ms. Lagarde may be the best person to steer a transition at the I.M.F., even if French President Nicolas Sarkozy has not yet moved to put her in the running, analysts say.

Ms. Lagarde has kept quiet about the rumors circulating about her potential candidacy. As one French official put it: “She knows that whatever she says will only diminish her chances. It’s best to stay above the fray and see what happens.”

But French officials do not doubt her ambition to move to Washington if the opportunity arose. “She is without a doubt one of the top candidates people are talking about right now,” a French diplomat said.

Ms. Lagarde’s biggest drawback perhaps is that she is French — like Mr. Strauss-Kahn. But recent history suggests that is not a disqualification: Between 1978 and 2000, two Frenchmen — Jacques de Larosière and Michel Camdessus — succeeded each other at the helm of the I.M.F.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4b06a3ec4955d34be764feffc2925fcf

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