France's Sarkozy wants Strauss-Kahn as IMF head

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he wants Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister and member of the opposition Socialist Party, to be the next head of the International Monetary Fund.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former French Socialist minister, leaves the party's national council meeting in Paris May 12, 2007. President Nicolas Sarkozy Strauss-Kahn to be the next managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the French head of state said in an interview published on Saturday. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

In an interview published by Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Saturday, Sarkozy said he had already put forward Strauss-Kahn’s name to U.S. President George W. Bush and the leaders of Spain, Italy and Britain.

“I want Dominique Strauss-Kahn to be France’s candidate at the head of the IMF because he is the best suited to this post,” Sarkozy was quoted as saying in the interview, released in advance of publication on Sunday.

Sarkozy’s suggestion was backed by German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck.

His spokesman Torsten Albig said in Berlin that Steinbrueck was informed in advance of the proposal. He said German wants a “good European candidate”.

“Strauss-Kahn is a good European candidate and we hold him in high regard,” Albig said. He added the cabinet would discuss the proposal before the government gave a formal endorsement.

Critics have suggested that Sarkozy wants to place Strauss-Kahn in the prestigious post to deprive the Socialists of one of their most popular and effective figures.

Sarkozy told the newspaper he was president of all the French people and wanted to make sure the best talents got promoted, regardless of their political affiliations.

“I know this (IMF) post is very coveted. To get it you need to have a lot of credibility, undeniable credibility and be a polyglot. Dominique Strauss-Kahn has these qualities,” he said.

“He and I have the same vision for the workings of the IMF,” he added, without giving details.

The current IMF chief, Spain’s Rodrigo Rato, announced last week that he planned to stand down in October.

Other countries have already indicated they have candidates for the job and European finance ministers are due to discuss their options next week in Brussels.

The IMF board is due to meet next week in Washington, officials there said, at the prompting of developing nations which want an end to a carve-up where Europeans head the IMF with U.S. support and an American leads the World Bank with Europe’s blessing.

The duopoly has existed since the institutions were created after World War Two, but no longer reflects the true balance of economic power since the rise of China and other giants that were economic minnows half a century ago.

Sarkozy is expected to attend the Brussels meeting next week to defend his plans to introduce tax cuts, which will weigh on the French deficit, and will almost certainly take advantage of the fact to promote Strauss-Kahn’s candidacy.

Strauss-Kahn is a Socialist Party dove who is a strong advocate of the French concept of a mixed economy, coupling free-market reform with the defense of a state role in industry.

Additional reporting by Gernot Heller in Berlin