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OPINION

Eye on France: All Hail Queen Christine!

After eight years at the helm of the IMF, Christine Lagarde will now move to the European Central Bank.
After eight years at the helm of the IMF, Christine Lagarde will now move to the European Central Bank. SAUL LOEB / AFP

She has no training as an economist, no experience as a central banker. Nonetheless, Christine Lagarde has been chosen to take control of the European Central Bank when Mario Draghi stands down at the end of October. Start stuffin’ yer ill-gottens into that ole mattress!

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Specialists interviewed by Le Monde politely say the choice of Lagarde as guardian of the battered European petty cash box is “controversial”, especially since the whole continental financial system is already fragile.

Le Figaro says Lagarde has a reputation as a dove rather than a hawk, and that her diplomatic skills are probably her prime quality. A diplomatic dove in a bunfight for bankers sounds like a squawk and a flurry of feathers. Time will tell.

She was Nicolas Sarkozy’s economy minister at the time of the 2008 global crisis; she has been running the International Monetary Fund for the past eight years; she was in the trenches when Greece looked like flushing the entire Eurozone down the gurgler.

The Greeks, by the way, won’t be sending her any Christmas cards. At the height of the Athens crisis in 2012, Lagarde said it would be great help if the Greek population finally got used to the idea of paying taxes. The cheek!

Political acumen versus economic expertise

Christine Lagarde has the great advantage of understanding the political workings of the European machine. The most brilliant economic solution will fail if the person who proposes it can’t manage to mobilise sufficient political support.

Financial paper Les Echos says she represents continuity and will probably maintain Mario Draghi’s policy of what economists call “quantitative easing”. That means, basically, printing money.

And, since the split will probably widen between those who want to continue churning out cheap cash and those, like the Germans, who want a spot of financial rigour, Lagarde’s diplomatic skills will be much in demand.

'No, no, no, no, no, no!'

Less than a year ago, Christine Lagarde told the Financial Times that she didn't want this job, or any other job in Europe. It stuck in my mind because she repeated the word "no" six times. That's a lot of negativity. Especially in the Financial Times. We'll have to ask the woman herself to explain the change of heart.

Le Figaro’s profile ends with two pertinent observations.

Mario Draghi will be a very tough act to follow, especially since the global slowdown shows no signs of speeding up. That's the bad news.

On the other hand, Christine Lagarde has learned to deal with Donald Trump, whose US is the biggest shareholder in the IMF. Compared to The Donald, taming European public opinion and the odd hostile Greek should be a piece of cake.

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