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Strauss-Kahn: A portrait

May 16, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, has long occupied a place in French public and political life. He is trusted by both left and right, but has been plagued by his fair share of scandals.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn
Strauss-Kahn has been IMF chief since 2007Image: dapd

Many French refer to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a socialist politician known for his clout and calm demeanor, simply as "DSK."

Strauss-Kahn is of Jewish-Moroccan ancestry and was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris in 1949. He spent his early childhood in Morocco before moving to Monaco, and then later to Paris where he studied public law and economics.

For more than two decades now, the 62-year-old economics professor has been a solid fixture in French politics.

Important socialist role

Strauss-Kahn followed the political ideals of his parents and showed left-leaning tendencies from early on in his adult life.

In 1971, he joined the Socialist Party, which then looked to Francois Mitterrand as the strongest figure on the left. In the 1980s and '90s, he occupied various political offices until becoming minister for economics, finance and industry in 1997. Among his achievements was preparing France for the introduction of the euro single currency in 2002.

Economic policy under Strauss-Kahn, in the eyes of many, was a success - he was able to combine economic pragmatism with social democratic political ideals. For example, he reduced the working week, while also setting a government economics agenda based on privatization.

Anne Sinclair and Strauss-Kahn
Sinclair is Strauss-Kahn's third wifeImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In 1999, he became ensnared in corruption allegations but was later exonerated. Nevertheless, this marked a shift in the life of DSK, with his focus turning for a time to teaching.

He assumed a position at his former university, the Institut d'etudes politiques in Paris, while also working as a consultant to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In Europe's corner

Strauss-Kahn reentered the public service in 2001 and one year later led a failed presidential campaign for Lionel Jospin, whom he had supported for almost his entire political career.

Political life for Strauss-Kahn following the election, which was won by the center-right UMP party, consisted of campaigning for European policy issues and lending his support to cooperation between France and Germany, which he believed were the engine behind the European Union. He was also among the key advocates during the failed 2005 French referendum on a proposed European constitution.

Failed candidacy bid

After years in opposition, Strauss-Kahn pursued the presidential candidacy for France's left in 2006, but eventually lost out to Segolene Royal. This pushed him to reevaluate the place of the social democrats in modern-day France and to call for a "re-founding of the left." He commented then that "the days of the class struggle are finally over. We have to deal with the new reality of a fragmented society."

Segolene Royal
Royal has been a great adversary to Strauss-KahnImage: AP

In November 2007, Strauss-Kahn assumed his position as head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Within a year, however, the institution had launched an investigation into its new chief following allegations he had abused his position by engaging in sexual relations with a subordinate, Piroska Nagy.

In August 2008, Nagy accepted a settlement offer and left the IMF, while Strauss-Kahn was unanimously retained by the fund's board, but was made to issue a public apology over the affair with the then-married Nagy. The IMF investigation found no evidence of harassment, favoritism or abuse of power.

In February 2010, Strauss-Kahn announced in a radio interview that he would be willing, under certain circumstances, to return to lead the Socialists at the next French presidential elections, due to be held in spring 2012. To challenge incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy would of course require that he leave the IMF.

Strauss-Kahn is married to television journalist Anne Sinclair, and has four children from two marriages. In addition to his mother tongue, he speaks fluent English and German, and is also a competent Spanish and Arabic speaker.

Author: Nicole Scherschun / dfm
Editor: Martin Kuebler