Germans cast a covetous eye over Camdessus' vacant throne at the IMF

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GERMANY LAID claim yesterday to the top job at the International Monetary Fund, left vacant by the sudden resignation of Michel Camdessus.

The German government has discreetly let it be known that it wants Caio Koch-Weser, the current number two in its finance ministry, to take over as head of the IMF. For 30 of its 51 years in existence, the IMF has been run by a Frenchman.

According to reports in the German press, the Finance Minister Hans Eichel has already sounded out Paris, but further discussions will have to be held, because Mr Eichel's contact, the former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has also resigned.

Mr Koch-Weser, aged 55, was brought into the government earlier this year by Mr Eichel to replace Hainer Flassbeck, the protege of former Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine. Mr Koch-Weser received the highest form of endorsement from Frankfurt yesterday. "Caio Koch-Weser has an excellent international reputation and has excellent international experience," gushed Jurgen Stark, the Deputy President of the Bundesbank.

The Germans argue that as Europe's biggest economic power, they are under- represented in the international financial world, especially since the European Central Bank took over many of the Bundesbank's functions.

France also had a potential candidate in the person of Jean-Claude Trichet, the head of the French central bank, but he has withdrawn. Mr Trichet is in any case in line to take over the ECB midway through Wim Duisenberg's term. With France seemingly out of the way, and the IMF top job traditionally going to a European, only Italy and Britain can thwart German ambitions. But Germany feels Italy is already represented by Romano Prodi, the head of the EU Commission. The battle is therefore expected to pit Germany against Britain. Andrew Crockett, the current British head of the Bank for International Settlements, is accepted by Germany as a worthy rival to their main candidate.

But, in German eyes at least, Britain has done well recently on the international merry-go-round, with George Robertson landing the top job at Nato.