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IMF forced into leadership search early by Lagarde exit

WASHINGTON: The reshuffle of leadership positions in Europe now forces world finance officials into a search for a new manager for the International Monetary Fund two years ahead of schedule.

After her nomination on Tuesday to lead the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde has stepped away from post she has held since 2011 and in which she led the IMF bailouts to restore order following the global financial meltdown.

But the outcome of the search for her replacement almost certainly will end in the same place that it has since the global crisis lender was created in the aftermath of World War II: with a European picked to serve as managing director.

While large emerging market nations have long called for more representation in important financial bodies to reflect their increased weight in the global economy, the choice earlier this year of American David Malpass to lead the World Bank, the IMF’s sister institution, showed the unwritten rule remains in place.

“The ease with which the US preserved the duopoly, means the Europeans will definitely want to keep their mitts on it,” former US Treasury official Mark Sobel told AFP.

A French government source agreed: “It must be a European,” he said.

Five of the IMF’s 11 leaders have been French nationals and they have been the longest serving in the institution’s 75 year history.

Early candidates mentioned as possible successors to Lagarde include Bank of France chief Franois Villeroy de Galhau, French politician Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, and Mark Carney, a Canadian who also holds British and Irish citizenship and whose term as leader of the Bank of England is up next year.

Another possibility is Kristalina Georgieva, the Bulgarian chief operating officer of the World Bank, who served as its interim president before Malpass was named. If selected, she would only be the second woman to lead one of the institutions.

A more open process

Advanced economies were the epicentre of the 2008 global financial crisis, and in the aftermath the leaders of the Group of 20 countries agreed that major developing nations like China, India and Brazil should have greater representation in the multinational institutions, including serving in leadership roles.

But when the top job at the IMF suddenly opened up in 2011, the European nations balked. With the crisis at their doorstep, and Greece almost literally going up in flames, leaders argued that the time was not right.

Emerging markets called out the hypocrisy but never unified behind Agustin Carstens, then head of the Mexican central bank and now leader of the Bank for International Settlements, and a veteran of senior posts at the IMF and widely seen as qualified.

Carstens was the lone candidate to challenge Lagarde in 2011 but never received sufficient support.

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