France’s Lagarde launches IMF bid


French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde joined the race to head the IMF on Wednesday despite anger in big emerging economies over Europe’s “obsolete” lock on the job.

Lagarde announced her candidacy on the eve of a G8 summit after securing the unanimous backing of the 27-nation European Union and, diplomats said, support from the United States and China, making her the overwhelming favourite to clinch the top job in global finance next month.

At a news conference in Paris, she promised to serve a full five-year term if chosen, unlike her three predecessors, and to give top priority to completing reform of the International Monetary Fund to give greater weight to emerging economies.

“Emergence of a number of big players like China, India, Brazil and Russia, for example, just to cite a few, forces us to ask ourselves about their representation at the heart of the institution,” Lagarde said.

The 55-year-old former corporate lawyer, who speaks fluent English, has won plaudits for her deft chairing of the G20 finance ministers and communications skills.
But unlike Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned last week after being charged with attempted rape, she is not an economist and may struggle to match his thought leadership over the management of the world economy.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said Lagarde had the “indispensable qualities to ensure the IMF’s mission and its vital contribution to international economic stability”.

The only other declared candidate is Mexican central bank governor Augustin Carstens, but he has not gathered the backing of the main emerging economies. US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said both Lagarde and Carstens were very talented, credible candidates.

Mexican Finance Minister Ernesto Cordero said Lagarde had “all the merits to be appointed at the top of the IMF”, but Carstens’ best credential was the strength of the Mexican economy, which is growing at 5.5 percent a year.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa criticized EU officials for suggesting the next IMF must be a European, a convention that dates back to the founding of the global lender at the end of the Second World War.

However, the countries known as the BRICS failed to unite behind a common alternative candidate, leaving the way clear for Lagarde unless she slips on a pending French legal case.