Eurocrats jostle for top jobs in global finance

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The Independent Online

The race for two of the most powerful jobs in international finance will come to a head at a crunch meeting of European ministers next week.

The race for two of the most powerful jobs in international finance will come to a head at a crunch meeting of European ministers next week.

In what is seen as a merry-go-round for European politicians, the top posts at the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are both vacant.

Both traditionally go to Europeans, sparking frenetic speculation over candidates. The picture is confused by vacancies at the Bundesbank and a new EU economics "super ministry".

EU ministers have narrowed the IMF shortlist to two - Rodrigo Rato, Spain's outgoing finance minister, and Jean Lemierre, the current EBRD president.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, was asked to sound out the IMF's 184 members. He will report back at a meeting on the fringes of the EBRD's annual conference in London next Saturday - where many of the same ministers will decide on a new president for the bank.

Speculation is growing that Mr Rato will beat M. Lemierre to win EU backing for the IMF job, in effect guaranteeing he takes up the reins of the Washington-based financial watchdog. Ministers are understood to favour a politically attuned candidate over a technically adept banker. This would disappoint M. Lemierre but leave the Frenchman free to accept a renewal of his four-year term at the EBRD, which expires in June.

Germany has so far refrained from naming its candidates to replace M. Lemierre at the EBRD until it knows how likely the Frenchman is to take over at the IMF.

As part of the horse-trading, Paris might also have to back a German for the newly created role of European Commission vice-president, covering the economy, competition and industry. Wolfgang Clement, the German economy minister, Caio Koch-Weser, the deputy finance minister, and Guenter Verheugen, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, have all been linked to the new post.

Andrew Crockett, the British-born former head of the Bank for International Settlements, has been linked to the EBRD and the IMF.

Germany may also have to find a new president for its central bank after the enforced departure of Ernst Welteke on indefinite leave following an outcry over a €8,000 bill for a hotel paid for by one of the banks the Bundesbank regulates. His deputy, Juergen Stark, is filling in but is believed to be too close to the main political opposition to be given the post. Mr Koch-Weser is a potential candidate.

Campaign groups are angry the IMF job is seen as a European sinecure despite its key role in the developing world and emerging markets.

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