The Bulgarian chief executive of the World Bank, Kristalina Georgieva, has emerged as a disputed victor in a tight battle to be the European nominee to head the IMF, with the UK vainly seeking to champion George Osborne as an alternative.
Georgieva gained the support of 56% of the bloc’s 28 member states in a runoff against the former chair of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, but the Netherlands and Sweden swiftly insisted that they would not accept the result.
The Bulgarian failed to meet the threshold of securing 65% of the EU’s population in Friday’s vote, which was carried out via email by officials in Europe’s capitals. It had taken 12 hours to get the result after a series of votes to whittle down an initial shortlist of five.
Dijsselbloem, who faced opposition from Spain, Italy and Greece over comments in 2017 in which he claimed that crisis-hit EU countries had wasted aid money on “alcohol and women”, won the backing of 44% of the EU capitals.
Sources at the Treasury had said it had been keen to manoeuvre the former chancellor into the running in behind-the-scenes negotiations but it ended up abstaining when a decision over a joint candidate was put to EU finance ministers for the vote.
The poll had been opposed by the British government on the grounds that it was unnecessary to rush the process ahead of a September deadline.
Nadia Calviño, the Spanish economy minister, Olli Rehn, the governor of the Bank of Finland, and Mário Centeno, the Portuguese chairman of Eurozone finance ministers, all pulled out as the capitals made their intentions known. The UK failed to meet a Thursday evening deadline to put forward Osborne’s name for consideration.
France had put its diplomatic weight behind Georgieva to replace Christine Lagarde, despite the Bulgarian’s candidacy requiring the IMF to change its eligibility criteria. She is 65 and the IMF’s rules state that the managing director must take the post before their 65th birthday.
She would be the first eastern European national to take the charge of the IMF.
Officials in Paris insisted that Georgieva’s margin of victory should be enough for her to go forward as the European candidate. The longstanding convention is for a European national to head the IMF, and for an American to head the World Bank.
The Treasurymay hold out hope for its plan for Osborne, the current editor of the Evening Standard, to emerge as a compromise nominee, but the chances appear vanishingly slim.
Political allegiances played a significant role in the process, with northern European countries reportedly pushing for Dijsselbloem and southern and eastern states preferring Georgieva.
Dijsselbloem, a Dutch socialist, won the support of Spain’s centre-left government, led by the prime minister Pedro Sánchez, while Italy offered its backing to Georgieva.
Earlier in the day, Mark Carney, the Bank of England’s governor, had appeared to offer himself up for the role after being asked about his intentions on leaving his current job.
He told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the IMF role was “extremely important”. “I wouldn’t mind doing something when I leave … It is a time of consequence for the global economy, whether it’s addressing inequalities, adjusting to a lower-carbon global economy, helping to get the world out of this very low-interest-rate, low-inflation, low-growth trap that we’re in. The fund can play an important role,” he said.
But Carney, a Canadian with both Irish and British passports, was reportedly not seen as European enough by many capitals. The Treasury declined to comment.
The Canadian ministry of finance offered their backing despite the opposition. A spokesman said: “Mark Carney has a considerable amount of experience and has shown exceptional leadership in the world of global finance.
“From a Canadian standpoint, we want someone at the IMF who has a deep understanding of the international financial system, who has the personal attributes that would enable them to be effective in negotiating agreements with countries in challenging times.”