BERLIN — Europe is staking its claim to the top job at the IMF ahead of the expected departure of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, fending off any push from developing nations like China, Brazil and South Africa for an end to that traditional monopoly.
Strauss-Kahn's arrest on sex charges has put new focus on the informal arrangement under which a European heads the International Monetary Fund, an American leads the World Bank and another American holds the No. 2 spot at the IMF.
Europeans are citing the IMF's key role in fighting the eurozone's debt crisis as the main reason to keep the job on their continent. But developing nations — many of whom are sitting on piles of cash while rich countries have loaded up on debt — argue their increasing wealth and importance in the global economy means those old ways are outdated.
Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said it was time for "new criteria" to determine who gets chosen to lead the IMF.
"We must establish meritocracy, so that the person leading the IMF is selected for their merits and not for being European," said Mantega. "We have to work toward a new criteria. We're going to fight for meritocracy in the monetary fund."
Mantega added "you can have a competent European ... but you can have a representative from an emerging nation who is competent as well."
China also said it was time to shake things up.
"The selection of the senior IMF leadership should be based on fairness, transparency and merit," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing.
Strauss-Kahn remains jailed in New York after his arrest for allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel maid but his departure from the helm of the IMF is expected to be only a matter of time. U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said Strauss-Kahn is "obviously not in a position" to run the IMF and that the organization needs to find an interim managing director.
Europe has "an abundance of highly qualified candidates" to lead the IMF, German government spokesman Christoph Steegmans declared Wednesday, underlining Berlin's insistence that a European must lead the body that oversees the health of the global economy.
He said Strauss-Kahn was entitled to presumption of innocence but "if the top job at the IMF does have to be filled at some point, then the government argues that there should again be a European."
The world needs an IMF chief who is "very familiar" with "Europe's particularities, the currency questions and also the political circumstances here," he told reporters.
The IMF, which lends to countries that get into financial and currency crises, has contributed to multibillion dollar (euro) bailout loans for Greece, Ireland and Portugal and is playing an important part in monitoring those countries' compliance with loan conditions.
Steegmans didn't name any potential candidates or say whether Germany itself might propose one. But Chancellor Angela Merkel has made the same point, along with the finance ministers of Sweden and the Netherlands.
South Africa's finance minister said a new IMF chief should come from a developing nation and that would broaden the world body's outlook.
"Such a candidate will bring a new perspective that will ensure that the interests of all countries, both developed and developing, are fully reflected in the operations and policies of the IMF," Pravin Gordhan said in a statement.
The United States has a major say in determining who will head the IMF, in part because it holds the largest number of votes at the 187-nation international lending agency.
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