View from City Road: Scene set for fun and games

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The Independent Online
France's new central bank council could prove a body with real clout, far more influential than Kenneth Clarke's seven wise men who advise but do not decide.

A pair of anti-Maastricht campaigners, a couple of centre-right conservatives, an unimpressive former banker and an energetic socialist - the mix of members is predictably balanced between opposing forces, so there will be some fun and games working out what they are up to.

Perhaps the most intriguing appointment is the economist Denise Flouzat, whose academic credentials are less important than her position as president of the anti-Maastricht organisation set up by Philippe Seguin, president of the National Assembly, during the referendum campaign. Less vocal but on the same side in that debate is Jean-Pierre Gerard, head of a national standards bureau. Both are clearly backed by Mr Seguin.

There had been speculation that the list, formally presented by Mr Seguin, would contain a fair number of names committed to lowering interest rates and letting the franc fall. But an anti-Maastricht stance is not necessarily the same as opposition to a strong franc.

Michel Sapin, the socialist politician, was one of the staunchest defenders of Maastricht, and as a like-thinking ally he has another socialist among the permanent Bank of France officials on the council - Herve Hannoun, the deputy governor.

Between these poles of enthusiasm and dislike for European integration lie a pair of practically minded centre-right members, Michel Albert, who is to step down from his job as chairman of Assurances Generales de France, and the economics journalist Jean Boissonnat, co-founder of the magazine L'Expansion.

If the council proves truly independent - there are still some doubters - he will arguably have more influence on the course of events than another journalist, Rupert Pennant-Rea, has as deputy governor of the un-independent Bank of England. Mr Boissonnat is on record as expecting French interest rates to fall this year, but there is no reason to think he favours a dash for cheap money.

The final name among the six new appointments is Bruno de Maulde, head of the Paris Bourse's internal supervisory body and former chairman of Credit du Nord, a centrist name that did not appear to impress anyone in Paris.

Certainly, the membership list does nothing to undermine the French administration's consensus against slashing interest rates at the expense of the franc. Policy will continue to be gradualist.