The likely next head of the European Central Bank will cement its reinvention under Mario Draghiby Paul Wallace / July 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
In choosing Christine Lagarde, the French head of the International Monetary Fund, to lead the European Central Bank, EU leaders have thrown convention to the wind. For one thing, a woman will now be Europe’s top central banker for the first time in the ECB’s 21-year history. That is welcome. For another, she will be the first person to hold that post without any experience as a central banker. That is less so.
The job is not yet in the bag, since a formal appointment cannot be made without consulting the new European Parliament. But assuming it goes ahead the highly politicised manner of the nomination makes for an unpromising start. The appointment of the ECB president was never supposed to be part of a broader political deal about who should get the European institutions’ most coveted jobs. Holders of the top central-banking post (together with the other five members of the executive board) serve for a non-renewable term of eight years. When the ECB’s first president was chosen in May 1998, the eight-year calendar for appointments was out of synch with the five-year calendar of the European parliamentary elections and the ensuing appointments.
But an unholy row at that summit in the spring of 1998 over who should be the first ECB president changed the calendar. French president Jacques Chirac lived up to his reputation as “le bulldozer” in his demand that Jean-Claude Trichet, governor of the French central bank, should immediately take the helm. The ten other European leaders of what was shortly to become the eurozone insisted that Wim Duisenberg, a former Dutch central banker, should be the first president. As a compromise Duisenberg was appointed on the understanding that he would step down mid-way through his term, resulting in Trichet’s appointment in 2003, and thus creating this year’s alignment with the changeover in jobs at the other EU institutions.
Nominating the head of the ECB, an expressly independent institution, through so overtly a political process is unfortunate to say the least. The deal looks like a Franco-German stitch-up in which the top political job as head of the European Commission goes to Ursula von der Leyen, the German defence minister, while France gets the prime monetary post. A further worry…