Stupid European Tricks: Of Sarkozy & Strauss-Kahn

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/07/2010 06:31:00 AM
Political cat-and-mouse games are always afoot here in Europe, where more involvement in the international arena broadens options for the key players. A time-honoured trick in European politics involves cheering on the appointment of potentially nettlesome political rivals to posts in Brussels or Washington to ensure smoother sailing on the domestic scene--or at least that's how things should go on paper. However, these not-so-good riddances have a way of backfiring sometimes as offshore bastions of power lend those exiled a high profile platform they can build on for their triumphant return to domestic politics.

Witness Romano Prodi being bandied off to the European Union and then becoming Italian prime minister during his triumphant return prior to Silvio Berlusconi once again retaking office. Or, see Peter Mandelson being sent to the EU as well to take the post of EC trade commissioner prior to, well, being recalled to fight political fires back home--the dirty jobs as it were. Now we have word that the (rather amorous) French political rivals, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, are at it too. More intriguingly, we have the picaresque setting of a Greek tragicomedy in the background.

The same old story holds for what we have here: to remove a political rival at home, Sarkozy encouraged his somewhat left-leaning rival to take the top job at the IMF. However, things have not gone according to Sarkozy's plans. He thought the then-lack of activity at the international lender would remove the public eye from DSK. It turns out that having to douse multiple fires in the world economy since Strauss-Kahn was installed at his current post right before the subprime crisis erupted has given him a lot of attention. Yes,the sort of attention that DSK may, ah, capitalize on if he returns to the realm of French politics. Some polls have Strauss-Kahn ahead of Sarkozy in a putative showdown. At any rate, here's the WSJ on the budding rivalry:
In discussions about Greece, Messrs. Sarkozy and Trichet say the European Union should run negotiations with Athens and that the IMF should stick to the lesser role of providing technical assistance. The two men have somewhat different concerns. Mr. Trichet's primary focus is the credibility of the euro and the 16-nation currency bloc. At a news conference Thursday, the ECB chief closed the door to any IMF participation in an eventual Greek bailout, saying it wouldn't be "appropriate."

Mr. Sarkozy, like other European government leaders, shares that view. But the 55-year-old president has an additional reason for keeping the IMF at bay: Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 60, could be a rival in France's 2012 presidential elections. When Mr. Sarkozy lobbied for Mr. Strauss-Kahn to get the IMF job in 2007, it was widely considered a way to exile a political rival.

At the time, the IMF was an institution without a clear mission: The global economy was booming and few countries needed its loans. One of Mr. Strauss-Kahn's early tasks was to put in place the Fund's first large-scale layoffs. But two years in Washington have raised Mr. Strauss-Kahn's international profile—and his ratings among voters in France, where he already had credibility for preparing the country's entry into Europe's single currency in 1999.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn recently indicated he might return to France to run for president before the end of his IMF term, which runs through 2012. Mr. Strauss-Kahn "has built a reputation that he wouldn't have had in normal times," because of the IMF's prominent role in fighting the global economic crisis, says Jean Pisani-Ferry, director of Bruegel, an economic think tank in Brussels. "He's also seen as the one who speaks and works with the mighty heads of state."
It's very interesting stuff the Euro bloggers have not fully covered.