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POLITICS

China refuses to commit to Lagarde

China said on Wednesday the race to lead the IMF was "open", echoing a noncommittal stance by India towards French front-runner Christine Lagarde as she pursued a tour of the emerging Asian giants.

China refuses to commit to Lagarde
MEDEF

China said on Wednesday the race to lead the IMF was “open”, echoing a noncommittal stance by India towards French front-runner Christine Lagarde as she pursued a tour of the emerging Asian giants.

The French finance minister, seeking to be the International Monetary Fund’s first female managing director, travelled to Beijing overnight from New Delhi, where a day of talks with Indian leaders did not yield any public endorsement.

China, India and other emerging nations have baulked at Europe’s traditional lock on the top job at the Washington-based IMF, calling the arrangement outdated, so their support is seen as key to the success of Lagarde’s bid.

Lagarde held a marathon day of talks, meeting Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan and Vice Premier Wang Qishan, China’s top official on financial affairs, a French embassy official told AFP.

The French minister, a 55-year-old former international lawyer, then held a dinner meeting with Finance Minister Xie Xuren.  

“We had a good discussion. She explained to me the purpose of her candidacy. I listened very carefully,” Yang told reporters after his meeting with Lagarde at a government compound in Beijing where foreign dignitaries are often hosted.

“It’s an open field now. There are quite a few people campaigning,” he said in English.

“China of course gives serious thought to this very important issue.”

Earlier, Lagarde said: “It was very important for me to come explain the purpose of my candidacy to the Chinese authorities.”

Lagarde is seen as the frontrunner to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned last month after his arrest on sexual assault charges. He pleaded not guilty in a New York court on Monday to the attempted rape of a hotel maid.

Two weeks ago, France’s chief government spokesman Francois Baroin said China – the world’s second-largest economy – was “favourable to the candidacy of Christine Lagarde”, but did not offer any evidence to back up his statement.

China’s foreign ministry subsequently said the choice of a new IMF chief should be based on “openness, transparency and merit, and better represent emerging markets and better reflect changes in the world economic structure”.

Senior officials in China, who have known Lagarde for seven or eight years, have appreciated her “distinguished qualities” both in the context of bilateral ties and the G20, chaired this year by France, a source in her entourage said.

Lagarde – who has already visited Brazil, another major emerging economy – has pledged to reform the IMF to give emerging and developing countries more power. 

Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Tuesday after meeting Lagarde that the choice of an IMF chief should be based on “merit” and “competence”.

He added that talks with Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa – who make up the so-called BRICS bloc along with India – aimed at agreeing on a joint candidate were continuing.

Lagarde said she had not gone to India “seeking assurance or reassurance” but simply to present her candidacy and “listen to the concerns” of an important emerging-market economy.

“It would be premature and arrogant on my part to expect assurance or reassurance,” she said in New Delhi.

Lagarde was to give a news conference on Thursday in Beijing before heading on Friday to Lisbon, where African finance ministers and central bankers will be meeting for the African Development Bank’s annual gathering.

The only other serious IMF contender, Mexico’s central bank chief Agustin Carstens, visited Canada on Tuesday and was to head to India on Friday on a tour that has already seen him stop off in Brazil and Argentina.

The deadline for nominations is on Friday, leaving little time for anyone else to emerge.

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FRENCH POLITICS

Pro-Macron MP becomes France’s first woman speaker

France's lower house of parliament has agreed to pick an MP from President Emmanuel Macron's centrist coalition as the first woman speaker, despite the ruling alliance losing its majority in legislative elections.

Pro-Macron MP becomes France's first woman speaker

Yael Braun-Pivet, who had been serving as the minister for overseas territories, is the first woman to ever hold the post of speaker in the history of the Assemblée nationale.

Despite the loss of its overall majority, Macron’s ruling alliance still managed to push through her appointment in the second round of voting.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and other senior Macron backers have been trying to win over individual right-wing and moderate left parliamentarians to bolster their ranks.

Borne, appointed last month, is France’s second woman prime minister after the brief stint by Edith Cresson in the 1990s.

Olivier Marleix, head of the centre-right Les Républicains group seen as most compatible with Macron, met Borne on Tuesday. “We’ve told her again there is no question of any kind of coalition,” he said.

But he added that the prime minister “really showed that she wanted to listen to us. That’s quite a good sign.

“We’re here to try and find solutions,” he added. “There will be some draft laws where I think we should be able to work together,” including one to boost households’ purchasing power in the face of food and energy inflation.

“It’s not in the interest of parties who have just been elected” to make a long-term deal to support the government, said Marc Lazar, a professor at Paris’s Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Borne under pressure

One key question will be whether Thursday’s vote to head the finance committee – with its extensive powers to scrutinise government spending – will be won by an MP from the far-right Rassemblement National (RN).

Led by Macron’s defeated presidential opponent Marine Le Pen, the RN would usually have a claim on the post as the largest single opposition party.

It faces a stiff challenge from the NUPES left alliance – encompassing Greens, Communists, Socialists and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) – who agreed on Tuesday on a joint candidate after some internal jostling.

Next week could see exchanges heat up in the chamber, as government chief Borne delivers a speech setting out her policy priorities.

Macron told AFP at the weekend that he had “decided to confirm (his) confidence in Elisabeth Borne” and asked her to continue talks to find either allies for the government in parliament or at least backing for crucial confidence and budget votes.

The president has ruled out both tax increases and higher public borrowing in any compromise deals with other parties.

Even as the government projects business almost as usual, hard-left LFI especially has vowed to try to prevent key proposals, such as the flagship reform to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 65.

Party deputy chief Adrien Quatennens said on Sunday there was “no possible agreement” with Macron, saying cooperation would “make no sense”.

“We haven’t heard (Macron) move or back down one iota on pension reform” or other controversial policies, he added.

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