Race to be IMF chief: 2 still standing after 3 candidates pull out

Informal compromise in EU impossible, but first ballot fails to produce required majority

BRUSSELS • The race to be the European Union's pick for leading the International Monetary Fund (IMF) yesterday narrowed to just two, Dutchman Jeroen Dijsselbloem and Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, after three candidates pulled out of the contest.

Finland's central bank governor Olli Rehn and Spanish Economy Minister Nadia Calvino withdrew yesterday after a first round of voting among representatives of the EU's 28 nations.

Mr Mario Centeno, the Portuguese president of euro zone finance ministers, had pulled out on Thursday.

As president of euro zone finance ministers from 2013 to January last year, Mr Dijsselbloem steered the euro zone out of the debt crisis, orchestrating with IMF the bailout of Greece, Cyprus and Spanish banks. But he is opposed by high-debt EU countries for the austerity measures attached to the rescues.

Ms Georgieva, 65, is chief executive of the World Bank after a long career at the lender, the IMF's twin organisation. Her candidacy would force a change in IMF rules that require the managing director to be below 65 years old.

Britain opposed the plan to select a candidate now, saying it was "premature" and did not allow London enough time to propose one of its own, according to a confidential note seen by Reuters.

Candidates for the head of the Washington-based IMF can be fielded until Sept 6. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire is leading the process to select a European candidate.

The top job at the IMF has historically been filled by a European, but candidates from elsewhere may gain traction if Europe splits.

The former IMF chief, France's Ms Christine Lagarde, resigned last month after EU leaders chose her to replace Mr Mario Draghi as European Central Bank president.

Northern European countries prefer Mr Dijsselbloem, while southern and eastern states are seen pushing for Ms Georgieva, one European official said.

Mr Rehn said on Twitter yesterday he was pulling out to allow for a unity candidate, while the Spanish government said Ms Calvino's withdrawal was aimed at promoting consensus among EU countries.

Since an informal compromise was impossible, France decided to push for a vote. A candidate who obtains 55 per cent of the votes of the 28 EU states, representing at least 65 per cent of its population, will win.

The IMF chief should have a proven understanding of how the fund works, a commitment to multilateral organisations and be an effective communicator, the fund's board said.

A new round of voting was under way yesterday after the first ballot failed to produce the required majority.

"It is a mathematical possibility that no-one will make it today," one official involved in the process said. "But I think at the end of the day, after a lot of arm-twisting, they will come up with one."

Britain did not field a candidate because it could not come up with a name on time, London said in a note sent to France. A new British government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson was formed only last week.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2019, with the headline 'Race to be IMF chief: 2 still standing after 3 candidates pull out'. Print Edition | Subscribe