The ECB and the Guillotine

Who will be France’s candidate to succeed Mr. Duisenberg at the ECB? It may not be Mr. Trichet.

May 9, 2000

Who will be France's candidate to succeed Mr. Duisenberg at the ECB? It may not be Mr. Trichet.

France’s top politicians have long fought hard and ardently to ensure that a Frenchman would take the helm of the European Central Bank when the present incumbent, Wim Duisenberg of the Netherlands, will choose to retire. The Frenchman in question, it has long been presumed, is to be Jean-Claude Trichet, currently head of the Banque de France. That now seems to be — by deliberate political design — passé.

Mr. Trichet is extremely well regarded in Europe as an independent-minded, almost ideal type of central banker. Even some of the old-school central banking hawks in Germany are ardent supporters. Mr. Trichet, after all, is the key architect of the “franc fort” policy, which put France’s public finances on a German-style, anti-inflationary path. And Germans like the fact that he speaks fluent German, in addition to several other European languages — definitely a rare treat for a Frenchman.

While the French judiciary is increasingly independent of political masters, it appears as though Mr. Trichet has become the target of a politically-convenient investigation. Now, it would seem, some political higher-ups have decided that France might be better served by another candidate for the ECB. He is, after all, regarded by politicians on the left and the right as being too independent, too much of a hardliner with regard to the franc — too much of a central banker.