May 25, 2011 / 10:48 AM / 9 years ago

Factbox: French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde

PARIS (Reuters) - French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde confirmed on Wednesday she is a candidate to head the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Following are some key facts on Lagarde.

— Born Christine Lallouette in Paris on January 1, 1956. Her father, an English professor, died when Lagarde was in her teens and Lagarde and her siblings were raised by her mother and grandmother.

— A member of France’s synchronized swimming team as a teenager. Lagarde joined U.S. law firm Baker & McKenzie at 25 in Paris after completing a Masters in English and labor law. She rose quickly to become the Chicago-based firm’s first female chairman, earning a reputation as a sharp negotiator with endless stamina.

— A former trade minister in the conservative government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Lagarde was named economy minister in 2007 by President Nicolas Sarkozy after a decade when France had changed economy ministers more often than any major industrialized country.

— After some initial public relations gaffes, Lagarde grew in stature and is now considered one of Sarkozy’s most competent and charismatic ministers. She was credited with an important role in securing a 750 billion euro EU rescue fund at the height of a debt market crisis in 2009 and has also been instrumental in moves at EU level toward tighter control of hedge funds, despite British opposition.

— She has spearheaded many of the initiatives during France’s presidency of the G20, and was seen as instrumental in negotiating a compromise with the Chinese at France’s February finance ministers summit over which indicators should be used to measure global economic imbalances.

— During the euro zone’s debt crisis, Lagarde has emerged as the most outspoken opponent of a debt restructuring, which she warns would impose high costs on all members in terms of higher financing costs. She has preached a mantra of euro zone solidarity, with large members such as France and Germany helping out troubled smaller states provided they themselves make painful reforms, such as privatizations and fiscal cuts in the case of Greece.

— The first and only female economy minister of a G8 country to date, the elegant and white-haired Lagarde says her understated, feminine approach to negotiations can prove an asset when dealing with male peers. The Financial Times named her last year the best economy minister in the euro zone and Forbes ranked her the 17th-most important woman in the world.

— Lagarde’s flawless English and slick presentational style is credited with maintaining France’s negotiating clout in key international economic forums, such as the G20.

— On the domestic front, Lagarde has overseen a softening of the 35-hour week introduced by the Socialists at the end of the 1990s — a key promise of Sarkozy’s — by removing punitive taxes on overtime.

— Never elected to political office — she was appointed from law to Villepin’s government without being a member of parliament — Lagarde is regarded as a straight talker. She attracted criticism shortly after her appointment with a series of statements, including a suggestion that the French tendency for navel-gazing hindered reform and the 35-hour week had made people work-shy.

— Her IMF prospects could be undermined if a court ruling goes against her next month. The Court of Justice of the Republic, a special court created to try ministers for alleged offences committed while in office, will rule on June 10 whether to investigate Lagarde over a disputed arbitration settlement with businessman Bernard Tapie, a convicted ex-minister who backed President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Reporting by Daniel Flynn and John Irish

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