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Europe

Germany and France Back Lemierre for IMF Job

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Jean Lemierre has been put forward for the vacant job of International Monetary Fund chief by Germany and France.

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Jean Lemierre receives powerful backing in his bid to become the next boss of the IMF.

While European Finance Ministers have so far failed to agree on a common candidate for the vacant post of head of the International Monetary Fund this weekend, the field was cut down to a two-horse race as France and Germany made public their backing for European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Jean Lemierre.

The European big guns stood by their man as the challenger to the other name in the frame, Spanish Economy Minister Rodrigo Rato, as the meeting to discuss the vacancy slipped inot stalemate on the choice of the EU's single candidate.

"The finance ministers agreed there were two clear candidates -- Rato and Lemierre,'' Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm told reporters during the meeting being held at a racecourse outside Punchestown, Ireland. British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, chairman of the IMF's Interim Committee, "will check that these candidates are appreciated by others,'' Zalm said.

"We have to discuss the matter in depth, taking into consideration what colleagues in other parts of the world think,'' Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting on Sunday.

"We have said that we support the French candidate who is a very good candidate,'' German Finance Minister Hans Eichel told reporters "The Spanish one is also undoubtedly one, but everyone has to make a choice.''

France and Germany suspected of dealing

Observers have speculated about some behind the scenes dealing between the two powerhouses where Germany would be rewarded for its support of Lemierre by receiving French backing for a German to be given a proposed new job of "super commissioner" responsible for the European Union's economic, industrial and trade policy.

"If Lemierre is a candidate, and this looks almost certain, he is likely to get the job," one source said.

The ministers will now hold further talks in London later this month to try and come to agreement on the single candidate.

The ministers, meeting for the final day of informal talks in Ireland, hoped to have a "final round" of talks at a meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London on April 18-19.

"I don't think that we'll have a decision today. We'll have to discuss the matter in depth, taking into consideration what colleagues in other parts of the world are thinking," he said.

Ministers pencil in talks for London meeting

"I guess that we'll have a final informal round in the margin of the meeting in London," he said, adding: "I don't know if we will have a decision there but we will make final proress in the course of that meeting."

EU finance ministers convened on Friday to discuss their favored European candidates with Lemierre and Rato already ahead of the chasing pack. But instead of presenting a united front, the process has been mired in complications.

Ireland's Charlie McCreevy opened the two days of informal talks which would attempt to decide a candidate to succeed Germany's Horst Köhler at the IMF. But after initial discussions, McCreevy dampened hopes of a quick decision by saying that the weekend talks may not even finalize a shortlist.

The Irish foreign minister told reporters that it had been the intention "to have all nominees at least in the frame at this weekend's meeting." But McCreevy added that this may not be possible as some member states may not be in a position to put forward their particular candidate. Irish officials indicated earlier this week that agreement could be reached on Europe's candidate for IMF chief at the weekend talks.

Search for a candidate to unite behind

"I and my European colleagues would hope that there would be a European candidate around which all European countries could unite,'' McCreevy said. Already "a good period of time'' has passed since Köhler resigned, he added.

The talks come after Köhler announced his resignation as the IMF chief on March 4 to concentrate on running for president in his native Germany, for which he is widely seen as the front runner in the May elections. Since his announcement, the only point of agreement among European leaders is that a European should replace him.

Eleven IMF board members from developing countries are challenging that view, demanding that all 184 IMF member countries take part in choosing a leader in a decision made without regard to nationality.

Since the founding of the IMF and the World Bank in 1944, the managing director of the IMF has by custom been a European and the president of the World Bank an American.

US and Japan may threaten EU dominance

Challenging the European dominance of the post, the United States, Japan and other countries have said that they may propose their own candidates if the EU fails to come up with a single strong candidate supported by its member nations, the source added.

Things may become more complicated still if Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi makes good on a promise to name an "exceptional" candidate - named by some sources as EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti.

Whoever takes over the IMF reins will need a firm grip. The Fund promotes monetary co-operation and economic and employment growth, but has been sharply criticized for its handling of recent financial crises in developing countries.

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