BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union finance ministers chose Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Tuesday as their candidate to run the International Monetary Fund but agreed that after him Europe’s monopoly on the job should end.
The backing for the former Socialist finance minister was a victory for new French President Nicolas Sarkozy who has sought to leave his mark quickly on Europe’s political map.
It was also a blow for Britain which argued the top IMF job should be open to non-European candidates already.
“We’ve quickly reached political understanding on the name of a candidate and the candidate will be Dominique Strauss-Kahn,” said Portuguese Finance Minister Fernando Teixeira dos Santos, whose country holds the EU presidency, after a monthly meeting of EU finance chiefs.
The ministers agreed that the job, which has gone to a European ever since the IMF was set up in 1945, should be open to all once Strauss-Kahn’s term ends.
“We are aware that a tradition that dates back to the 40’s in a world that has changed, needs to change,” Italian Economy Minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa told reporters.
There is no rule that the head of the IMF must be from Europe. But in practice the role has always gone to a European while the United States nominated the head of the World Bank.
“It was too late this time because the Americans have already nominated their candidate to the World Bank,” an EU source said, about a change in the arrangement now.
The United States indicated last week it would not challenge Europe’s grip on the IMF captaincy since it had just picked American Robert Zoellick for the top World Bank job.
“It’s a bit tit-for-tat, but there was agreement that we would open the job next time,” the EU source said.
Developing nations are challenging assumptions that Europeans and Americans should carve up the top jobs in world finance, arguing the arrangement no longer reflects the balance of economic power since the rise of China and other countries.
Strauss-Kahn, 58, is a respected, multilingual advocate of social democratic economics. He was credited with engineering France’s economic recovery in the late 1990s and helped cut the country’s budget deficit to ensure France joined the euro zone.
He failed to get the Socialist nomination to contest the 2007 presidential election, won by centre-right Sarkozy.
In his first comments since Sarkozy proposed him for the job and then pursued a juggernaut campaign to get European support, Strauss-Kahn said the IMF mission had to be redefined and developing countries should be given “the role they deserved”.
French Economy minister Christine Lagarde said opening the IMF post to global competition should be mirrored at the World Bank’s top job.
Britain and the IMF board said on Monday that the post should immediately be opened up to all candidates when current managing director, Spain’s Rodrigo Rato, steps down in October.
Chancellor Alistair Darling, said on Tuesday Strauss-Kahn was a credible candidate but London wanted others.
A British spokesman sought to play down the deal, saying the backing in Brussels for the Frenchman was not formal.
France already holds three top international economic posts. Pascal Lamy heads the World Trade Organisation, Jean-Claude Trichet runs the European Central Bank and Jean Lemierre is boss of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Out of the nine IMF managing directors so far three have been French and one was German. There was also one Spaniard, one Dutchman, one Belgian and two Swedes.
Poland’s candidate, Marek Belka, received little support.
Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Adrian Wright in London, Swaha Pattanaik and Smeet Desai in Brussels, Kerstin Gehmlich in Paris