A better way to select the head of the World Bank

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Paul Wolfowitz said all the things expected of an incoming president of the World Bank yesterday. In a meeting with EU ministers in Brussels, Mr Wolfowitz did his best to sell himself to all those alarmed by the nomination of such a renowned unilateralist to head this influential world development body. He spoke of his respect for the bank's mission and acknowledged that he is "a controversial figure". It seemed to do the trick. The European board members of the World Bank are expected to back his appointment today.

Paul Wolfowitz said all the things expected of an incoming president of the World Bank yesterday. In a meeting with EU ministers in Brussels, Mr Wolfowitz did his best to sell himself to all those alarmed by the nomination of such a renowned unilateralist to head this influential world development body. He spoke of his respect for the bank's mission and acknowledged that he is "a controversial figure". It seemed to do the trick. The European board members of the World Bank are expected to back his appointment today.

But nothing Mr Wolfowitz said alters the fact that he is unsuitable for this post. It is impossible to discount the prospect that he will use the World Bank as a platform for the Bush administration's global agenda. Mr Wolfowitz chose to adopt a conciliatory tone yesterday, but in the past he has made it clear that he believes US interests must always come first. This one-eyed view would be disastrous at the World Bank.

Mr Wolfowitz comes with too much ideological baggage to be a respected head of an organisation committed to tackling poverty and deprivation. And he is also rather badly qualified - his inept handling of the aftermath of the Iraq war shows that nation-building is not his forte.

It is a pity that EU ministers appear to have chosen to back Mr Wolfowitz. The French government's efforts to balance the appointment by pushing its own candidate to be Mr Wolfowitz's deputy missed the point. The real problem is the mechanism for selecting the World Bank's leader.

By tradition, the EU appoints the head of the International Monetary Fund and the US the head of the World Bank. But these are supposed to be international bodies, concerned with the global good. The US and the Europe may contribute more to their funds, but that is no reason they should automatically control their operation. This offends the principle of multilateralism. The field should be open to all countries. The effective impotence of the world in the face of a nomination as bad as that of Mr Wolfowitz shows that the time has come to rethink the manner in which the head of the World Bank is chosen.

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