Lagarde chosen to lead IMF; first woman in top job

WASHINGTON (AP) — French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde was chosen Tuesday to lead the International Monetary Organization and will immediately confront a European debt crisis that threatens the global economy.

Lagarde will be the first female managing director of the 66-year-old global lending organization and the 11th European. Next week, she will begin a five-year term.

Among her challenges, she will have to prod fellow Europeans to take painful steps to prevent a default by Greece. She’ll face pressure from developing nations that want a greater voice at the IMF. And she’ll be looked upon to restore the IMF’s reputation, which was tarred by a scandal involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the man she’s replacing.

Strauss-Kahn resigned last month after being charged with sexually assaulting a New York City hotel housekeeper. He has denied the charges.

“I am deeply honored by the trust placed in me,” Lagarde said in a statement in Paris after the vote Tuesday. “I would like to thank the fund’s global membership warmly for the broad-based support I have received.”

Lagarde was chosen by consensus, the IMF said in a statement.

Her selection became all but assured once the Obama administration endorsed her earlier Tuesday. Hours later, the IMF’s 24-member board voted to appoint her. She had also won support from Europe, China and Russia. Mexico’s Agustin Carstens challenged her, but his candidacy never caught fire.

In an interview on French television after the announcement, Largarde said her first priority is to unify the IMF’s staff of 2,500 employees and 800 economists and restore their confidence in the organization.

She also said she wants to meet with Strauss-Kahn, if permitted to by the U.S. government.

“I want to have a long talk with him, because a successor should talk with their predecessor,” Lagarde said during the interview on French television channel TF1. “I can learn things from what he has to say about the IMF and its teams.”

Lagarde, 55, will be the first IMF leader who is not an economist. She led the Chicago-based law firm Baker & McKenzie before entering French politics in 2005. She has spent much of her career in the United States and speaks impeccable English.

As one of the longest-serving ministers under French President Nicolas Sarkozy, she made the country’s labor market rules more flexible. Forbes has listed her among the world’s most powerful women.

Most urgently, she will be expected to help stabilize Europe’s debt crisis.

“This will put her in the position to work more closely with her European counterparts and push them if needed,” said Domenico Lombardi, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former member of the IMF’s executive board.

Under an informal arrangement dating to the end of World War II, a European has always lead the IMF and an American has run its sister organization, the World Bank.

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