French Finance Minister Top Contender For IMF Christine Lagarde is the first woman ever to head the economic affairs of a G-8 economy. Observers say she has the skills necessary to fill the shoes of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned to fight charges of sexual assault in New York City.
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French Finance Minister Top Contender For IMF Chief

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French Finance Minister Top Contender For IMF Chief

French Finance Minister Top Contender For IMF Chief

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

MONTAGNE: Christine Lagarde, that country's finance minister, who officially announced her candidacy for the IMF today. Eleanor Beardsley sends this profile.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Appointed by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, Christine Lagarde is the first woman ever to head the economic affairs of a G8 economy. Though she got off to a shaky start in her relations with the French media, she came into her own during the world economic crisis. Greg Viscusi, a reporter with Bloomberg News, follows Lagarde in the European financial world.

LOUISE KELLY: You know, she spoke perfect English. She knew how things worked overseas. She's always quite pleasant to deal with. In French politics, she's one of the few people that doesn't always seek a political fight.

BEARDSLEY: Rumor has it that when the crisis broke, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson would take calls from Lagarde, but not other foreign officials. Her ease with American culture comes from her time spent studying and working in the U.S.

POST: President George W. Bush called her one of the family. Forbes magazine ranked Lagarde the 17th most powerful woman in the world in 2009, as she battled the global economic crisis. During that same year, she made an appearance on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW")

LOUISE KELLY: Most of our banks were fine. But you know, it happened that there was one which didn't do right, was losing money, and we had to just inject capital and put equity in the bank. And once you become the shareholder - I, certainly for one, said the management is out. They did a crappy job; they have to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOUISE KELLY: I love it.

BEARDSLEY: Francoise Nicolas, a financial expert with the French Institute of International Relations, says Lagarde can fill Strauss-Kahn's shoes.

LOUISE KELLY: Christine Lagarde has precisely a number of the qualities that are needed to replace him. She has an international profile. She knows how to deal with Americans, which is extremely important for such a job.

BEARDSLEY: Though the IMF has traditionally been held by a European, and the World Bank by an American, there is pressure to change that. The leaders of Brazil, Mexico and China say it is time to have a representative from an emerging market or a developing nation.

LOUISE KELLY: to make a clear break with the sex scandal. But he says there are other advantages, especially if Europe and America want to keep the status quo for now.

LOUISE KELLY: So having a woman, it certainly goes partway. It's not someone from the developing world, but it's not someone from the old boy's club either. So I think it might be a way sort of to make people swallow the pill of having yet another European.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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