View from City Road: Confused EBRD urgently needs boss with clout

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Anne Wibble, the Swedish finance minister who chairs the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, may have come back from her summer holiday this week too late to seize the initiative over appointing a new president.

The summit sherpas - the senior officials who prepare the way for next week's meeting of the Group of Seven industrial countries - had already been busy over the weekend in Tokyo discussing the succession to Jacques Attali.

A decision is becoming more urgent by the day, judging by a speech Mr Attali made yesterday afternoon to his staff at the bank's Broadgate headquarters in the City. It was more of a farewell, passing on what Mr Attali called his dream of doing something for Eastern Europe to those he left behind.

In Tokyo, the sherpas made no decision, but discussed the ground rules for Mr Attali's replacement, of which the most important is whether the bargain struck at the beginning that the president would be a Frenchman still stands.

The leading French candidate is Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the treasury and experienced in international debt through the Paris club of creditor governments, run by his department. He could move into Mr Attali's office in no time at all. But after putting up one candidate of mixed managerial ability, opposition to another Frenchman is strong and the issue may have to be taken to the summit.

Of the other possibilities, Onno Ruding, the former Dutch finance minister who is a vice chairman of Citicorp, appears to have ruled himself out. Henning Christophersen, the Danish EC economics commissioner, may have damaged his chances by trying too hard to rule himself in yesterday when his CV was circulated to EBRD board members.

Sir William Ryrie, the retiring head of the World Bank private sector affiliate, the International Finance Corporation, may be out of the running because he is British.

The most sensible choice, if he could be persuaded to take the job, is Karl Otto Pohl, the former head of the Bundesbank. Somebody with the clout that comes from running the German central bank has the best chance of resolving the contradictions and rows inside the EBRD.

Should it continue to emphasise private sector lending, the core of its charter? Or should there be more emphasis on World Bank-style development lending to the public sector?

Given the difficulty of finding creditworthy private borrowers in the East, the second route is the only way to expand lending fast. But there must be a clear promise that the bank will get back to its original charter once the private sector is able to take up the slack. That requires a boss with real credibility.