Paul Wolfowitz, one of the main architects of the war in Iraq, has in effect tied up the top job at the World Bank by winning over EU ministers with pledges to fight poverty and hints that Europe will win a senior post on his team.
Mr Wolfowitz emerged from almost two hours of talks in Brussels yesterday insisting that he believes "deeply" in the mission to fight poverty and promised to create a "truly multinational" management line-up at the bank.
Known as a leading neoconservative, Mr Wolfowitz's nomination to the World Bank presidency raised suspicions that the White House wanted to use global institutions to advance US foreign policy goals.
France has led calls for a European to be appointed to a senior post at the bank and Mr Wolfowitz sounded accommodating, without giving a commitment. He said he looked forward "to having a truly multinational senior staff," adding that there was "great talent" in Europe and noted that the European countries en bloc are the biggest donors to the bank.
As president, Mr Wolfowitz will have discretion over the choice of managing directors of the bank who act as deputies. The outgoing president, James Wolfensohn, currently has just one managing director - China's Shengman Zhang - but, during the past 10 years, there have been as many as five.
If a slot becomes vacant for a European, the names of at least two French candidates are likely to be mentioned, including Pascal Lamy, a former European commissioner. However, another theory suggests that the US might instead be persuaded to back M. Lamy's attempt to become head of the World Trade Organisation.
In the event, no individuals were canvassed in yesterday's talks with EU development and finance ministers, after which it was made clear there will be no European attempt to block Mr Wolfowitz, who has served as President George Bush's deputy defence secretary. Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency, removed any doubt about the appointment, describing Mr Wolfowitz as the "incoming president" of the World Bank. That position is expected to be confirmed today.
Mr Wolfowitz confronted his critics head on, arguing: "I understand that I'm, to put it mildly, a controversial figure. But, as people get to know me better, they will understand that I really do believe deeply in the mission of the bank."
Though European countries have enough votes to veto Mr Wolfowitz, tradition dictates that the US nominates the top job at the World Bank while Europe chooses the top post at the International Monetary Fund.
At yesterday's meeting none of the ministers mentioned Iraq, though Belgium's minister for development co-operation, Armand De Decker, challenged Mr Wolfowitz on the amount of resources spent around the globe on defence as opposed to development. Mr De Decker said Mr Wolfowitz had impressed ministers, displaying "no arrogance", though some were concerned at the emphasis on economic development. "Development aid is more than economic, it includes education and health," he said.
Now reconciled to the appointment, Europeans are hoping that, by putting a trusted ally in charge of the bank, President Bush will strengthen its clout. One official said: "Some people in Europe have found him thoughtful and smart. He has his admirers in Europe as well as his detractors." Another insider pointed to the possible advantages of having a president with a hotline to the White House, saying: "He is the sort of person who will get his calls returned."
However, pressure groups blamed EU governments for not scrapping the appointment system last year when the IMF job fell vacant. "They had a chance to get rid of this charade," said Peter Hardstaff, head of policy at the World Development Movement, who said the past suggested Mr Wolfowitz would "come in and do the bidding of his friends in the White House".
But even Germany's development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who had come closer than any other European politician to criticising the nomination of Mr Wolfowitz, said: "I expect that he will get the European and German support."Reuse content