By Carolyn Cohn and Drazen Jorgic
LONDON, May 18 (Reuters) - European Bank for Reconstruction and Development shareholders elected senior civil servant Suma Chakrabarti as the bank’s first British president on Friday, in a process lauded for its open selection.
Chakrabarti replaces Germany’s Thomas Mirow, president since 2008, who campaigned without Germany’s backing in a five-candidate race after the European Union failed to agree a consensus candidate.
Previous EBRD presidents have always been French or German and France’s Philippe de Fontaine Vive Curtaz was one of the other candidates.
Chakrabarti, who was elected for a four-year term, is currently permanent secretary - the most senior civil servant - at Britain’s Ministry of Justice. He previously ran Britain’s Department for International Development.
“The success of a British candidate to lead this important European institution shows the strength of and support for Britain’s influence in Europe and around the world,” British finance minister George Osborne said, adding that the knighted Chakrabarti would provide strong leadership for the EBRD’s expansion into the Middle East and North Africa.
The president was chosen by the bank’s 65 country and multilateral shareholders at its annual meeting in London.
Chakrabarti congratulated Mirow for his work in office and lauded the open selection process for the presidency.
“The open, fair and merit-based process has been a credit to the Bank and to all the other candidates,” he said in a statement.
Chakrabarti’s appointment comes despite a running assumption that the presidency would never go to a British candidate, in return for the bank being headquartered in London.
The successful candidate had to be chosen by a numerical majority of the 65 shareholders but also by a majority weighted by shareholding.
The United States has the largest shareholding at 10 percent of the vote, but France, Germany, Italy each hold more than 8 percent, as does Japan, which backed Chakrabarti.
EBRD shareholders stressed the democratic nature of the voting process, amid years of controversy about the way in which presidents of major international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are selected.
“Mr Chakrabarti made a very active and ambitious impression and such a democratic process is a new thing for international organisations and I think it was not bad,” Austria’s finance minister Maria Fekter told Reuters.
German deputy finance minister Thomas Steffen emphasised the German government did not have an official candidate, even though it acknowledged the work of Mirow over the past four years.
“It was a fair and transparent process and we have a clear outcome,” he told Reuters.
The EBRD was set up in 1991 to help former communist countries of central and eastern Europe make the transition to market economies, but has expanded its activities to include central Asia and, most recently, North Africa and the Middle East.
The presidency had previously been considered one of a number of jobs up for grabs by European Union policymakers, even though the EBRD is not an EU institution.
The other jobs are the chairmanship of the Eurogroup, the policy-setting forum of euro zone finance ministers, a seat on the European Central Bank’s executive board and head of the euro zone’s permanent bail-out fund.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is in the running for the Eurogroup chair, while Luxembourg’s Yves Mersch is expected to get the ECB job and Spain could get the bail-out fund.
The other EBRD presidency candidates were Poland’s Jan Krzysztof Bielecki and Serbia’s Bozidar Djelic.
“It was a transparent process where, for sure, allegiances maybe played a bigger role than merit, but nevertheless this is progress,” Djelic told Reuters.