Christine Lagarde, finance minister of France, is questioned by Karan Thapar on why she wants the job of managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Edited excerpts of an interview on CNBC-TV18:
You already hold one of the most powerful and influential jobs in the world. Why do you want to instead become managing director of the IMF?
As minister of finance for France for the past four years, I have weathered one of the worst storms we’ve had in about 80 years. It is time for those with the experience of going through the crisis to volunteer and be prepared to serve larger interests, a bigger community and the purpose of the fund at large. I see it as a good meeting point between the aspiration of the members of the fund and the set of skills, expertise and background I have accumulated over the years.
Today, when you met the Prime Minister, the finance minister, Montek Singh Ahluwalia — how did you convince them that you actually are the best person for the job?
First, I found myself in violent agreement with them that the process should be open, transparent and the selection be merit-based. The nationality, country of origin, region of origin should neither prejudice nor privilege a candidate. So, we start from the same basis. Now I have to demonstrate what my merits are and it is for them to determine whether it’s good enough to be selected managing director.
You don’t have a degree in economics and the world is going through a sort of prolonged global financial crisis.
I’ve gone through a major financial crisis at a time when I was presiding over the ministers of finance meetings of Europe. I’ve presided over the G20 ministerial and governors of central bank meetings, taking my country and the French economy through this storm. The country didn’t go down as badly as Germany did in 2009. It is bouncing back much better than the forecast had indicated. The expertise I have gained added to my experience of leadership, as a chairman of the largest global firm in the world. I think I have the ability to draw a consensus, to reach out to an international crowd of people with sizeable egos as lawyers or economists can be.
So, when you met the PM and the FM today, did they assure you of India’s support?
It’s not for me to say and to draw a conclusion from the excellent meetings I have had with all of them. Clearly, the welcome extended to me, the hospitality, the very warm messages, are based not on my personality exclusively, but also on the very deep and solid and long-standing relationship between India and France, between Indian intellectuals, academics and politicians and French academics, politicians and economists.
You are one of the architects of what many people consider the euro zone’s failed strategy to tackle Portugal, Greece, Ireland. Could you disown something you had created as finance minister of France?
The loyalty of a managing director of the IMF is to the IMF’s total constituencies, to examine the purpose of the IMF and how it can best serve the purpose of the institution. The moment you become elected and appointed to serve an institution, you serve that institution. I am no longer the minister of finance for France, if I am elected managing director.
Is there any understanding between yourself and, say, Washington or Beijing that if they endorse and support your candidature for the top job, you would support a person from their country as their deputy MD?
No such bargaining. I stand very humbly on my own feet, with what I have in the past - in the private sector for 20 years and in public administration and in government in the past six years.
If you do become head, you would inherit a fund whose image is shattered and whose morale is battered.
The IMF has extremely competent, eminent, high-calibre individuals for whom I have huge respect. The terms under which the managing director departed has affected some of them and one would need very quickly a process to address this, of a very active institution which is respected, led with due respect to diversity, to minorities, on the basis of respect and tolerance, and those are very much the values that I have always cherished personally, as well as shared with the people that I have worked with. It is teamwork, it is energy, it is enthusiasm, and trust. That trust has to be built and built and built over time.
If you to get that top job, there could be some emerging economies that may feel aggrieved.
My goal is to include, to reach out, that everybody’s concerns have to be taken on board. The world is changing massively in front of us. Emerging economies are driving the process. They still represent less than a majority of the GDP around the planet. But their importance, their role, their drive is clearly giving them a front-runner position in whatever is being discussed around the world at the moment. This is happening in many institutions around the world and so should the fund evolve, to reflect properly the change.
I would try to remedy any hard feeling that would result from the competition we have at the moment.