The attempt by members of the European Parliament to force the European Council – that is, the heads of state and government of the EU member states – to choose their candidate to be the next president of the European Commission looks likely to backfire.
Indeed, so determined are some forces in Brussels to show they will not submit to the parliament’s attempt at a power-grab of the commission post that they are floating the name of Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to be the next head of the commission.
The tactic seems to be: “Why choose one of those pigmies from parliament when you can have the French and fabulous Lagarde from the IMF?”
She in fact may be a bit too fabulous, though the rich euro-elite — who have given themselves the privilege of high pay with low tax — can’t see it.
As head of the IMF, Lagarde was often at the meetings of the eurozone finance ministers throughout the euro crisis. She would appear on televised press conferences after the meetings insisting on austerity policies that the people of Greece and other eurozone countries must bear – and yet wearing clothes by Armani and jewels by Chanel and Cartier, and carrying one of a selection of bags from the French design house Hermès costing €8,000 to €10,000 each.
It is clear why the euro-elite would want her to leave the IMF (“She’s one of us”) and head the commission, even if they are only using her name as a threat to the pretentions of the parliament.
But the rumours being placed around Brussels don’t say why Lagarde would agree to the move.
Anyone who has been watching her career manoeuvres must reckon what she wants next is to be president of France, not to be head bureaucrat at the European Commission. That job is okay for small-time former prime ministers from small time countries. The current president José Manuel Barroso was for just two years the prime minister of Portugal, and nothing else you’ve ever heard of.
But for a global player with her eyes on the Elysée Palace, president of the commission doesn’t obviously figure as a game plan.
Here is how Lagarde came to be where she is. Until she was called back to Paris by President Sarkozy to join his cabinet in 2005, she built her career as a corporate lawyer in Chicago.
She never had training as any kind of financier or economist, which is why only a freak wave of political accidents threw her into the IMF job: her predecessor was Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He was forced out of the IMF in 2011 when a New York hotel maid claimed she had raped him. He was later acquitted of the charge, but was forced to pay her substantial damages.
When the job suddenly became open, a the rising BRICs countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China – said it was time someone from outside Western Europe headed the IMF. But Sarkozy insisted the job stay with a French candidate, so he produced his cabinet minister Lagarde as the “perfect” candidate for the moment.
And perfect she was, in a political sense: the fact that she was female going for a job that had always been held by a man was both irrelevant and Sarkozy’s ace card. She left the other candidates, who all had ferocious qualifications from the top universities and finance houses in the world, side-lined.
Now however the one thing that would most certainly leave her side-lined in any attempt at to become president of France would be the decision of Sarkozy to stand as the candidate of the centre-right UMP in the next election in 2017. All other possible contenders at the top of the UMP could possibly be seen off by Lagarde, but not Sarkozy.
If she is offered the European Commission, and she takes it, you can reckon it is because she had decided Sarkozy is back on the road to the Elysée. So the low-tax luxury of life at the top of the commission might make a consolation prize.