Lagarde is wrong choice to head IMF
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
By Pierre Briançon
Speaking fluent English and being European shouldn’t be the only two qualities required of a managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Yet some of the IMF’s major shareholders — many European members, probably the United States, and possibly China — seem to agree that Christine Lagarde should head the institution now that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has resigned. Yet after four years spent as French finance minister, it’s hard to see what qualifies her for this job, save for fawning by the international media.
Let’s skip over the important point that there’s no reason the job should go to a European in the first place. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s idea that it takes an IMF chief from the euro zone to deal with its debt mess can easily be shot down: a non-European wouldn’t be suspected of being an interested party in the heated debates over how to resolve the crisis. Strauss-Kahn did a stellar job cajoling the Europeans into action, using the carrot of IMF cash. But this had more to do with his own qualities than his passport.
Let’s also forget the not-so-mundane problem that Lagarde could soon be placed under formal investigation for having allegedly misused her powers to help one of Sarkozy’s friends in a business dispute.
More troubling is that Lagarde lacks some of the qualities required for the job. As French finance minister, there’s no single reform, debate, decision or policy her name can be attached to. She has done mostly Nicolas Sarkozy’s bidding. Throughout the debt crisis, she articulated France’s position but didn’t help much to define it. Finally, she hasn’t even done what finance ministers should do in deficit-prone countries: be the voice of fiscal discipline. Her voice on this has barely been heard.
Lagarde, who has no academic training in economics or finance, doesn’t even seem to have a strong set of beliefs. She has mostly been an executor and the international face of Sarkozy’s policies, which certainly hasn’t prepared her for a job she would only get after high-level diplomatic horse-trading. The IMF needs a leader. She doesn’t fit the bill.