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So the EBRD has a new, British, president, breaking the Franco-German stranglehold on the institution and elected for the first time through an open competition. Will the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other multilateral bodies now come under pressure to do the same?
Well, possibly. Sir Suma Chakrabarti, the winning candidate, said after his victory the “open, fair and merit-based process has been a credit to the Bank and to all the other candidates”.
But while the decision was more merit-based than the intra-European Union stitch-ups that produced previous presidents, it was still intensely political. George Osborne, the UK chancellor who had championed Chakrabarti’s candidacy, insisted he was the “best candidate for the job” but conceded his victory was also the product of a “serious campaign and strong diplomacy”.
The 63 country governors were all voting according to instructions from their national capitals; the remaining two governors representing the European Union and European Investment Bank could not vote because the EU had not reached a consensus on who to back.
Chakrabarti benefited from strong “Anglo-Saxon” backing, with the US, Canada and Australia swinging behind him, although he told a press conference on Saturday that he had won wide support, including from EU members, that was not dominated by any particular “bloc”.
But many will be sparing a thought for outgoing president Thomas Mirow. He faced questions over his own suitability when appointed back in 2008. But he largely silenced the critics with his handling of the bank through the financial crisis which hit within months of his appointment. Had the Franco-German machine functioned as normal, he could have expected a second four-year term.
Instead the carve-up between Paris and Berlin some months ago that was supposed to give the job to a Frenchman – before other EU countries, for the first time, baulked – seems a particularly brutal piece of institutional politics.
Asked, at a joint press conference with Chakrabarti, why he had lost the election, Mirow commented wryly and to laughter from the audience: “I would probably say that there was a slight lack of enthusiasm from my own government.”
People present at the five presidential candidates’ hearings with governors on Thursday say Chakrabarti was undoubtedly impressive. But some suggested he was outmatched – inevitably perhaps – by the depth of Mirow’s presentation, but also by an uncharacteristic display of passion by the usually reserved and soft-spoken German.
Observers said Bozidar Djelic, the Serbian candidate and former deputy premier, was also impressive – which could potentially position him for a future vice-president’s post at the bank.
The biggest problem for Mirow seems to have been that, deprived of Berlin’s explicit support, there was no one to lead the lobbying on his behalf and he felt constrained in campaigning too heavily himself. Some country shareholders reportedly also decided they could not vote for a candidate not backed by his own capital.
The result also did nothing to assuage the pressure from central and eastern Europe to choose a president from among the long list of suitable candidates from the bank’s countries of operation.
Those demands were personified in the candidacies of Djelic and Poland’s former premier Jan Krzysztof Bielecki. But Poland is likely to “graduate” from EBRD financial support during Chakrabarti’s four-year term, while Chakrabarti’s victory has broken the old unwritten rule that the job must go to a French or German candidate. The pressure to give the presidency to a Pole in 2016 may become unstoppable.