Is Madame Lagarde the Ideal IMF Leader?

06/02/2011 10:08 am ET | Updated Aug 02, 2011
  • Georges Ugeux Chairman and CEO, Galileo Global Advisors and Adjunct professor at Columbia Law School

The extraordinary push and unusual consensus of the European Union on the candidacy of Madame Lagarde deserves some attention and maybe scrutiny. Being a lawyer and politician who ran a U.S. law firm in Chicago, Madame Lagarde is undoubtedly a very serious candidate.

France considers the IMF top job as "theirs," and has provided a succession of quite remarkable leaders of the IMF. Whether that means the next one should be French was "beyond reasonable doubt" for the Elysée Palace where Président Sarkozy rules. The fact that he or she should be European is part of a "deal" between the United States and Europe, whereby, at Bretton Woods in 1944, the World Bank goes to an American and the IMF to a European. That deal reflects the fact that, at Bretton Woods, the U.S. and Europe were alone to split the jobs. More than ever, this position is no longer defendable.

The IMF, under the leadership of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, embarked in a co-financing process, together with the Eurozone, of the bail-out of Greece ($150 billion), Ireland ($130 billion) and Portugal ($120 billion). The Eurozone was indeed unable or unwilling to put on the table the full amount and is now in the unenviable position to have to call on the International Monetary Fund. The new Director General will have to represent the interests of all the members of the Fund in these negotiations. Is a European the best candidate to have the necessary objectivity and dispassionate view of the situation?

One could also argue that Madame Lagarde is a crucial part of the negotiations that are taking place which could lead to a further $60 billion loan to Greece, which has not fulfilled its commitments. She supported the European Central Bank view that the Greek debt should be restructured, thereby protecting the ECB's substantial portfolio of Greek bonds, as well as the European bank's exposure to Greece. The IMF has always insisted on loans associated with strict application of its conditionality to pay the additional tranches. In this case, it departed from its sound and historical practice.

Last but not least, with 43% of the capital of the IMF, the emerging countries are asking for more say and would be perfectly legitimate in requesting that seat for one of them. Agustin Carstens, the Mexican Finance Minister, is campaigning in their name. It seems that the United States, which stayed silent on the matter, will not support Madame Lagarde unless she gets some support from the key emerging countries. They are right. She was in Brazil starting a campaign.

The G8 talked about it but, as he often does, Président Sarkozy pretended that it was not the place for such discussions. His Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alain Juppé, pretended that the candidacy of Madame Lagarde was agreed upon, contradicting the statement by Russian President Medvedev that there was a "near-accord" on the fact that an emerging market candidate would be considered. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India indicated to German Chancellor Merkel in Delhi that it was not the nationality that should define the right candidate. The reality is that the European attitude has literally infuriated the other countries who saw in it a sign of colonialism and arrogance.

In France, Madame Lagarde is under investigation by the Court Supérieure de Justice for allegedly abusing her power in bypassing the procedure to grant $300 million for a former French Minister and businessman Bernard Tapie. The Court was established by President Mitterrand to investigate irregularities committed by Cabinet Members, in the exercise of their function.

Those elements should at least require a serious look, for a candidacy that cannot be treated as ideal, without further consideration. This being said, as Patrick Stewart of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote today: "The apparent lesson of this episode is that while emerging powers are quite content to criticize existing global institutional arrangements, they do not yet constitute an effective bloc that can unite behind an agreed program of action."