Bank chief reignites row

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The Independent Online
WIM DUISENBERG, set to become the first president of the European Central Bank, delighted MEPs but reignited the debate over last weekend's Brussels summit deal yesterday by reminding the French that it contains no date for his departure from office.

The Dutchman scorned EU leaders who appointed him for what he labelled an "absurd" political fix which guarantees that his successor in running the single currency must be French.

And he "deplored" the fact that nationality was implicitly one of the criteria for selecting the next central-bank head. Playing up the ambiguity of the fudge which emerged after the stand-off between the French and German leaders, Mr Duisenberg, 62, said it was "not impossible" that he would remain for longer than the four years the French claim he has been given. Asked during a confirmation hearing at the European Parliament whether he could stay on in the job for the full eight-year term if he wanted, he replied "Given good health, then yes".

His remarks under cross-examination by members of the parliament's monetary affairs committee will be seen as provocative in Paris, where interpretation of the deal is that he has to cede to the French central-bank governor, Jean-Claude Trichet, by July 2002, when euro notes and coins have gone into circulation.

Mr Duisenberg admitted he had come under intense pressure during the summit to commit himself to a specific departure date, in breach of the Maastricht Treaty. "That is why it took so long on Saturday. I consistently refused to do so," he explained to sustained applause from MEPs.