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Europe Ponders Wolfowitz Nomination

Most European states will accept Bush's nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as World Bank chief, as a veto would reverse the thaw in transatlantic relations, analysts said Thursday.

An architect of the Iraq war, Wolfowitz isn't popular in Germany

An "architect of the Iraq war," Wolfowitz isn't popular in Germany

A day after Bush put forward his arch-conservative deputy defense secretary as World Bank chief, Europe is still mulling the controversial choice. Across the continent, governments are wondering if Wolfowitz has the right credentials for the position. But they're well aware how much is at stake.

"I doubt the Europeans will be able to block it as George W. Bush probably cleared it among European leaders: Tony Blair and possibly even Jacques Chirac," Fraser Cameron, director of studies at the European Policy Center in Brussels, told AFP.

"The issue appears to be a done deal," agreed Jerome Sgard, a senior economist at the Center for Prospective Studies and International Information (CEEPI) in Paris. "Bush made numerous calls in Europe about this subject, at the highest level. Chirac made it known right away that he was not opposed" to Wolfowitz's candidacy, Sgard added.

In France, Chirac "took note" of Wolfowitz's candidacy and told Bush in a telephone call that he would review it in a "spirit of friendship" and "with a eye on the mission" of the World Bank.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in Brussels that Wolfowitz was "very distinguished and experienced internationally and if his appointment is confirmed, we look forward to working with him".

Avoiding a row

The issue of competence could have been a deciding factor for European leaders unwilling to rock the boat just as relations with Washington are improving, Sgard suggested. "With Wolfowitz, we can't really say that he is incompetent. It would be opposition for political reasons, which is much more delicate," Sgard explained. "It would risk reopening a highly visible conflict where once again we would have Europeans opposing the Americans on a decision that in principle is theirs to make."

Through an informal agreement between the founding member states of the two bodies, the United States traditionally nominates the World Bank president and Europe nominates the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"It's a negative decision, but not a surprising one," said Rafael Villacis of San Pablo University in Madrid, adding that putting Wolfowitz at the head of the World Bank would empty the institution of its "social aspect".

But Haine countered with a positive way for Europe to view the nomination.

"The White House is getting rid of the most virulent neo-conservatives like John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz by placing them at international institutions -- meaning they are no longer in charge of American policy," he said.

Enthusiasm in Germany limited

In Germany, Michael Müller, the Social Democrats deputy parliamentary leader, described the choice as "horrifying."

Michael Müller

Michael Müller

"Wolfowitz is a hawk who has repeatedly proved that he is a firebrand," he went on. According to Müller, Wolfowitz's appointment would put the world economy at risk of being taken over by a military mind-set of repression and supremacy.

"Our enthusiasm in 'old' Europe is limited," said German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul.

Threat to trans-Atlantic consensus

James D. Wolfensohn Weltbank

James D. Wolfensohn

Current World Bank president James Wolfensohn (photo) is to stand down this summer.

Analysts had said Wednesday that Bush's nomination of Wolfowitz threatened to put that transatlantic consensus to the test.

Aside from Iraq, Wolfowitz has attracted criticism from many as a leading light of the neo-conservative movement, which wants the US to impose its vision of liberal democracy and free-market economics on others.

According to Reuters, staff at the World Bank itself are concerned that his links to the Iraq war could undermine the bank's credibility.

But the 61-year-old former academic sought to win over his detractors by declaring that he believed "deeply and passionately in the mission of the World Bank."

"The opportunity of working to lift a billion people who earn less than a dollar a day out of poverty and billions of others who live in circumstances of poverty, to give them a chance in life, is an exciting responsibility and a real challenge," he said.

As president of the World Bank, Wolfowitz would lead 10,000 staff in Washington and around the world, overseeing a $9 billion annual aid budget which for many poor countries is a development lifeline.

But the institution has also been accused of backing grandiose development projects which have little economic worth and of fostering poverty by driving nations deeper into debt.

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