BY LISA BRYANT – PARIS, FRANCE – As International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn remains jailed in New York on sexual assault charges, speculation is already simmering on who might succeed him.
It remains uncertain whether the current IMF head, France’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn, will be ordered to stand trial on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid. Strauss-Kahn claims he is innocent.
Even if this is the case, a number of observers believe his career at the IMF is over – and that the allegations, true or false, have also likely dashed any hopes for a French presidential run next year.
Speaking from Brussels, where she was attending a European Union ministerial meeting, Austria’s finance minister, Maria Fekter, suggested Strauss-Kahn should step down to avoid further damaging the IMF.
Spanish Finance Minister Elena Salgado says it is up to Strauss-Kahn to make that decision. But Salgado said the sexual assault charges Strauss-Kahn has been accused of are very serious. While justice must take its course, she said, her solidarity is with the woman who suffered the assault – if those charges proved true.
Financial analysts are now speculating on a number of possible candidates to replace Strauss-Kahn, including French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.
While he would not discuss personalities, Karel Lannoo, chief executive of the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies, offers the profile of the ideal IMF chief.
“He needs at the same time to be a good economist – a good macro-economist above all – and preferably someone with a Ph.D., like Strauss-Kahn had a Ph.D. – he was welcomed on that ground four years ago because he had a Ph.D. in economics. But at the same time, who is a good diplomat,” he said.
The job to head the International Monetary Fund has traditionally gone to a European, and there were already indications Tuesday that Europe would be plugging for it to stay that way.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told Dutch reporters that if it is necessary to choose a successor to Strauss-Kahn, the European Union should present a candidate. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also says Europe should have good candidates ready.
But other experts are looking at potential candidates outside Europe – including in emerging economies like China or Brazil. Analyst Lannoo says their lobbying weight will depend on how well they are doing at home. “If they, for example, manage to get their own economy well in order – take Brazil for example – they probably have a case to say, ‘look, we can advance a good candidate.'”
Strauss-Kahn was widely speculated to be preparing to leave the IMF shortly, to prepare a presidential bid. “He was stepping down anyway because of [the presidential race], but have the Europeans prepared for this? I would say not,” said Lannoo.
The names of non-European IMF candidates floated in the media include former South African finance minister Trevor Manuel, Brazil’s ex-central bank president Arminio Fraga, and Min Zhu from China, who is a special advisor to Strauss-Kahn.