Commentary: Schlesinger, fool or knave?

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The Independent Online
There is no possible interpretation of the behaviour of the Bundesbank president, Helmut Schlesinger, over the past few days other than that he is either a fool or a knave.

It is now clear that he did indeed tell Handelsblatt, the German trade paper, that last weekend's realignment did not go far enough to hold the exchange rate mechanism together.

Certainly, Handelsblatt has not quoted him as saying the words because it had agreed that it would clear precise quotations with his office. But the newspaper has quoted him in indirect speech, and the journalist who conducted the interview is senior, respected and accurate.

The sinister interpretation is that Mr Schlesinger was playing another round in the Bundesbank's attempt to force an ERM realignment. It has never liked fixed exchange rates, let alone a currency union that would make it subservient to a European central bank.

Like other Bundesbank officials before him - notably immediately after the announcement of Britain's pounds 7.3bn foreign currency borrowing - Mr Schlesinger may have privately trailed his views while publicly repudiating them. If so he is behaving both dishonourably and illegally, given the Bundesbank's obligation to support the Bonn government's policy.

The alternative interpretation is scarcely more flattering. It is simply that Mr Schlesinger is a monetary incompetent unsuited to being put in charge of the Vietnamese dong, let alone the German mark. If he is really so insensitive to the way markets work as to express such views accidentally, he is totally unfit for his office.

Whether stupid or scurvy, the sooner Mr Schlesinger makes way for Hans Tietmeyer, his surer-footed deputy and heir apparent, the better for all Germany's European partners.

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