French finance minister Christine Lagarde formally announced her bid to be the next managing director of the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday. "I have decided to present my candidacy. I did this after an agreement with President [Nicolas Sarkozy] and Prime Minister [Francois Fillon] of France," she said. Considered the front-runner for the position, the timing of her public announcement is meant to head off complaints from developing countries that someone other than a European should lead the global institution. Addressing that issue in her announcement Lagarde said “Being a European shouldn’t necessarily be a plus, but it shouldn’t be a minus, either."
Her bid follows Tuesday's announcement from Mexican central bank chief Agustin Carstens, who's being depicted as Lagarde's main rival. Surveying the political landscape rather diplomatically, U.S. treasury secretary Tim Geithner complimented Lagarde, while not leaving out Carstens in an interview with Politico. "They're very talented people. Christine Lagarde is an exceptionally capable person, an excellent mix of financial, economic knowledge, talent, and the kind of political skills you need," he said. "Agustin has that as well."
Lagarde will have to distance herself from two unpleasant things: the IMF's previous French managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who's facing sexual assault charges in New York, a potential legal probe into a 2008 payout involving Lagarde, a prominent businessman and a state-owned bank. Carsten's success hinges on his ability to quickly rally emerging countries behind him as most of Europe, including Britain, Italy, Germany, Sweden and Ireland backs Lagarde.