BERLIN – Europe is moving quickly to protect its traditional claim to the top job at the IMF ahead of the expected departure of current chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, resisting a push from developing countries to appoint someone from another region.
Strauss-Kahn remains jailed in New York after his arrest for allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel maid, and his departure is expected to be only a matter of time.
Germany and other European countries are pre-emptively insisting a European should head the fund, the custom since World War II, given that the eurozone debt crisis is the fund's central issue. But many developing nations note that because of their increasing wealth and role in the global economy, they should have a chance to name the successor.
German government spokesman Christoph Steegmans said Wednesday that Strauss-Kahn was entitled to presumption of innocence but "if the top job at the IMF does have to be filled at some point, then the government argues that there should again be a European at the top of the IMF."
Strauss-Kahn's arrest has put new focus on the informal arrangement under which a European heads the IMF and an American the World Bank. Europeans are citing the IMF's key role in fighting the eurozone's debt crisis as a reason to name someone from the region -- with expertise in its issues and the politics.
The IMF has contributed to bailout loans for Greece, Ireland and Portugal and is playing an important part in monitoring those countries' compliance with the loan conditions.
South Africa's finance minister, however, said that a new IMF chief should come from a developing nation to reflect the interests of all countries.
"It is against this background that South Africa calls for a candidate from a developing country to be given the opportunity to be the Managing Director of the IMF," Pravin Gordhan said in a statement. "Such a candidate will bring a new perspective that will ensure that the interests of all countries, both developed and developing, are fully reflected in the operations and policies of the IMF."
U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said Tuesday that Strauss-Kahn is "obviously not in a position" to run the IMF and that the organization needs to find an interim managing director.
The United States has a major say in determining who will head the IMF, in part because it holds the largest number of votes at the 187-nation international lending agency. Changes to the IFM's governance in 2008 and last year will shift 5.3 percent of voting share to emerging and developing countries, but all the changes have not taken effect yet.
Germany's Steegmans said at a government press briefing that Europe has "an abundance of highly qualified candidates."
Steegmans didn't name any potential candidates or say whether Germany itself might propose one. But he said it "makes a lot of sense" to have an IMF chief who is "very familiar" with "Europe's particularities, the currency questions and also the political circumstances here."
Chancellor Angela Merkel has made the same point, along with several European finance ministers. Possible candidates mentioned in news media speculation include French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde; the former head of the German central bank, Axel Weber; the head of Europe's bailout fund, Klaus Regling; and Peer Steinbrueck, a former German finance minister.
Candidates from elsewhere include Turkey's former finance minister, Kemal Dervis; Singapore's finance chief Tharman Shanmugaratnam; and Indian economist Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
Yet more possibilities include Trevor Manuel, South Africa's former finance minister; Mexico's central bank governor, Agustin Carstens; former Brazilian central bank president Arminio Fraga; and China's Min Zhu, a special adviser to Strauss-Kahn.