Hub and Spokes

The candidacy of Germany’s Caio Koch-Weser for the IMF’s top job is indicative of a far bigger problem facing Europe: Europe’s elites network successfully with their U.S. counterparts — at the expense of their relations inside Europe.

March 3, 2000

The candidacy of Germany's Caio Koch-Weser for the IMF's top job is indicative of a far bigger problem facing Europe: Europe's elites network successfully with their U.S. counterparts — at the expense of their relations inside Europe.

Traveling from one European country to another, meeting the various countries’ professional elites, one can hardly fail to make a curious discovery. In the glorious age of networking, most Europeans have all made sure of one thing: to have made optimal contacts with their appropriate counterparts in the United States.

To this end, the Swedes and the Swiss, the Fins and the French, all invest great personal efforts and large amounts of time. As a result, there is a maze of organizations serving a multitude of special interests for professional — and global — advancement. For example, one can now join the German-American Lawyers Association or the Italian-American Businessmen’s Association. The other European countries have their own bilateral organizations with similar sounding names.

And yet, despite the endless talk of closer and closer European integration (remember the single European market?), such networks between the various European nations are largely nonexistent. Case in point: One of the prime reasons Mr. Koch-Weser’s candidacy for the top job at the IMF failed was the Germans’ inability to garner French and British support for him early on.

Only if the Europeans presented a unified front would Mr. Koch-Weser gain the momentum to propel him into the position. But once his candidacy was announced without official French or British backing — which implicitly meant that they opposed him — the U.S. Treasury was able to blast away at him, ultimately imperiling his quest to become the next Managing Director of the IMF.

This serves as a good example for how the Europeans, through their own inability to network amongst themselves, are hurting their own interests. It is not even that the Americans are aiming to keep Europe segregated. The Europeans do it all by themselves.

In other words, when movers and shakers from Germany and France get together, there is likely to have been an American intermediary somewhere in the chain. This system of networking is in many respects similar to the hub-and-spoke system developed by U.S. airlines, where it is only possible to travel from one small city to another by detouring through a large central city. Only in this case, the United States is the hub — and the spokes are the various countries in Europe.

In the end, Europe seems not to have drawn closer together — even in this age of the euro. On the contrary, as the Koch-Weser candidacy reaffirms, to get things done in Europe, you still need to go through the United States first.