November 24, 2011 8:45 pm

Sarkozy to nominate Coeuré for ECB

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Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, is to nominate the deputy head of the French treasury to take a vacant seat on the six-man executive board of the European Central Bank.

Benoît Coeuré, 42, will take over from Lorenzo Bini Smaghi of Italy who is stepping down to take up a post at Harvard University.

Mr Coeuré is a Japanese-speaking economist who started his career at INSEE, the French statistics agency. He served as director of Agence France Trésor, the debt management agency, before becoming the deputy head of the treasury in charge of multilateral issues and the G20 leading economies.

Mr Coeuré is regarded in French policy circles as a protégé of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, rather than as a close ally of Mr Sarkozy.

The departure of Mr Bini Smaghi ended a long-running stand-off between Rome and Paris over the composition of the board – but left the fiercely independent ECB open to criticism that it had bowed to political pressure.

Mr Sarkozy urged Mr Bini Smaghi to stand aside to make space for a French representative on the executive board. Since Mario Draghi took over from Jean-Claude Trichet this month as ECB president, the board has had two Italian members – but nobody from France.

Mr Coeuré’s appointment would be the latest in a series of high-level moves at the ECB. In September, Germany’s Jürgen Stark announced he would also quit the executive board by the end of the year – apparently in protest against the extraordinary measures taken by the ECB to combat the eurozone debt crisis, including its controversial government bond purchases.

The shake-up will give Mr Draghi the chance to reorganise his top team. So far a German has always had responsibility for the ECB’s powerful economics department – but Mr Draghi could decide to end that tradition.

Executive board members also serve on the ECB’s decision-making governing council, along with national central bank governors from the 17 eurozone countries.

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