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Poetry and transparency: an unexpected Lagarde

Christine Lagarde has set the stage for commissioners auditions by trying to seduce MEPs. Did she try a bit too much ?

Lagarde candidature for ECB chief was fiercely criticised when first announced last July. Many critics reproached her with a sexist stance: she would not have the right skills, as she has never been a central banker.

She prepared carefully her hearing in the European Parliament, and it went smoothly on 4 September, also setting the stage for future auditions: as Ursula von der Leyen learned in July, it’s useful to soft-soap the European Parliament.

Lagarde’s hearing was quite a surprise.

She insisted on two things that sounded like music to MEPs ears. First, she said that EP should be more taken into account, and she committed to more transparency – without joking. Transparency is the last thing that comes to mind when you think of ECB until now. Meetings are secrets, and communication is scarce. When asked a question by a journalist, the ECB is the only EU institution that allows itself to answer: “We won’t answer to any question on this subject”. When heard by the EP, Mario Draghi did the same thing if the questions were bothering him.

Climate is also a burning topic for the EP, and Lagarde is one of the first (soon to be) European central banker to have raised the topic.

She pushed the seduction far away, including a poetry quote in her speech.

“As Paul Valéry rightly said in the aftermath of the war: “mettons en commun ce que nous avons de meilleur et enrichissons nous de nos différences” : “let’s share the best we have and enrich ourselves with our differences”, Lagarde said.

Then MEPs questions mostly focused not on those topics, or on growth and employment, but on a quite technical issue: the negative interest rates.

MEPs showed that they are more concerned about the incomes of pensioners than about the employment and environmental prospects of European citizens. A surprising situation where each played the other’s game, and with a happy end: the ECON committee voted in favor of Lagarde.

The good sign for the EP is that if candidates for top jobs feel the need to seduce MEPs, that’s a proof their power is growing.

Or is it a proof that everyone is accepting to play in a masquerade? All the exchange seen on Wednesday does not seem that real: the ECB pretending to be transparent and taking the EP and climate into consideration sounds too good to be true.

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