She has come a long way since representing France in synchronised swimming as a teenager. Now aged 55, Christine Lagarde stands a good chance of becoming the IMF’s first-ever female boss.
A fluent English speaker with a professional background in America, the former corporate lawyer understands the Anglo-Saxon economic approach.
But she would also bring to the job a French vision of the importance of social spending and the need for regulation of the markets.
Recent crises – be they financial, economic, debt or euro zone – have given Lagarde an opportunity to put her talents to good use.
A straight talker and sharp negotiator, she has gained on-the-job experience of the challenges facing the IMF during France’s G20 presidency.
Able to broker deals under pressure, her achievements include helping to allay German fears over the creation of a euro zone bailout mechanism.
Chancellor Angela Merkel certainly seems to be a fan, judging by comments she made before Lagarde threw her hat into the ring.
“I have always said, without this being a confirmation of her candidacy, that the French finance minister is a first-class, experienced person,” Merkel said in Bavaria on Saturday.
Never elected to political office, Lagarde became France’s first female finance minister in 2007.
After some initial public relations gaffes, she grew in stature and is now considered one of Nicolas Sarkozy’s most competent and charismatic ministers.
But the settlement of a legal row involving a French bank and a friend of the president could undermine Lagarde’s IMF prospects. Judges will rule on June 10 on whether to investigate Lagarde’s role in awarding businessman Bernard Tapie a multi-million euro payout. She denies any misconduct.
June 10 is ironically the same date as the deadline to submit nominations for the IMF job.
If this legal hurdle is overcome, the path looks relatively smooth for Christine Lagarde to return to the States as the fund’s Managing Director. Many would agree that Paris’s loss will most definitely be Washington’s gain.