Christine, Kristalina, Ursula and the others

The new face of Europe

Source: Wikipedia and C. Lagarde’s Twitter account


            Three major world institutions are now run by Europeans, and this is more than a double coincidence. If one does not only wonder, as in the past about the Pope, about the number of his divisions or one would say today about his rates of growth, Europe has a face and it is a pole of civilization, characterized by diversity and the search for progress. Another strong message is that this vast ensemble is represented by women.

Christine Lagarde and Ursula von der Leyen were pioneers, while Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, who could also have been head of the UN, confirmed the legitimate place of a woman in the leadership of the IMF. All three are of the same generation, that of the 1950s; they have assisted and participated in the development of the European Union and other important international organisations. In 2019, they took the lead of considerable institutions, C. Lagarde as President of the European Central Bank (ECB), U. von der Leyen as President of the European Commission and K. Georgieva as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (FMI).

Their journey to these eminent positions was not only paved with roses and, from this point of view, they experienced parity. This is true for C. Lagarde, who has become the woman of all records. Her failure in the competition of the National School of Administration did not discourage her. She took advantage of the opportunities that were available to her: she first won a scholarship to study in the United States in 1974, then she rose through the ranks of an internationally renowned law firm. After a few years in the private sector, she began a ministerial career that allowed her to be in France the first woman Minister of Economy and Finance. Not limited to national boundaries, she managed to rise to the position of Managing Director of the IMF in 2011, and thus became the first woman to lead this institution. Completing this «first path», she obtained the presidency of the ECB in 2019.

Ursula von der Leyen is no stranger to the accumulation of premieres: in 2013, she was the first female Federal Minister of Defence in Germany, in a delicate position where it is difficult to gain popularity. In 2019, the European Council proposed its name for the Presidency of the European Commission. The tradition of the Spitzenkandidat, to propose the head of the list of the party that came out ahead in the European elections, was not respected in these circumstances. This choice was endorsed by 51.3% of the votes of the European Parliament. Ursula von der Leyen thus became the first woman to head the European Commission in the family line, her father having been a European official since the creation of the Commission in 1958.

Like Christine Lagarde, Kristalina Georgieva has proven herself and has not given up on the vicissitudes of her career: in 2016, she was approached for the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations; in 2019, his name had been mentioned to take over the Presidency of the Commission and in the same year his name had also been proposed for the Presidency of the European Council; In 1993, she began her career at the World Bank, where she gradually rose through the ranks until 2008 when she became Vice-President of the organization. Between 2010 and 2016, she worked for the Commission. In January 2017, after a long career, she was appointed Managing Director of the World Bank. She even held the interim presidency of an institution traditionally run by Americans for a few months.  In 2019, she successfully applied to the IMF’s Executive Board. She succeeded Christine Lagarde ensuring the continuity of a European at the head of this institution.

All three found themselves in common struggles for diversity and equality and for the advancement of women in society. At the end of an already full career, both in the private and public sector, C. Lagarde said in an interview last March always act in favor of the integration of women at all levels of companies. She shares with Kristalina the goal of developing girls’ education around the world. The latter encourages the abolition of laws that hinder women’s work and encourages their entrepreneurship. Ursula is also a leader in an innovative family policy during her tenure as Minister of Social Affairs in Lower Saxony and then in the federal government, where she held the portfolios of Women, Family and Health. Developing the crèches and the budget for childcare, setting up a parental wage (e.g. 1,800 euros per month during the child’s first 14 months), were measures in favour of which she committed herself. It also addressed the serious problem of child pornography on websites.

On environmental issues, the President of the Commission and the Executive Director of the IMF are linked by their awareness of the dangers of global warming. Kristalina Georgieva has a reputation as an economic and environmental expert on which she has built her career. She reserved her first public appearance as Managing Director of the IMF for a panel on the issue of the role of Central Banks in the fight against climate change. She also said the IMF’s priorities are to help countries reduce their CO2 emissions, through a carbon tax, but with potential tax cuts and incentives for investment in clean infrastructure. For her part, Ursula von der Leyen, as soon as she took office, included the green deal – which aims to achieve the European Union’s carbon neutrality by 2050 – in the main policy areas of her mandate.

The Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted every calendar. Ursula von der Leyen was initially criticised for her response to the crisis, even though she is a doctor by training, but the judgment taken with more hindsight is much more positive and the common approach to the problem – even though there is no common health policy – has not been called into question. In their field of competence, Kristalina Georgieva and Christine Lagarde have made it a priority to reduce the financial impact of the health crisis and to preserve financial stability by increasing the number of mechanisms, such as affordable borrowing, facilitated access to credits, activation of rapid financing instruments, or disaster relief and redress funds. C. Lagarde summed up the ECB’s policy with the phrase “exceptional periods require exceptional measures”. During the pandemic, 2020 having been an annus horribilis, the worst since the Great Depression, the IMF granted more than 100 billion dollars in various facilities.

These three Europeans had to quickly face tough times: Brexit and its effects, the Covid-19 crisis, the Sino-American tensions in relation to which Europe must place itself, to mention only the major topics among the most visible. And we could also mention global warming and the global economic slowdown that preceded the health crisis. Just as crises reveal great personalities, they can also be a factor for progress depending on the response they elicit, as Jean Monnet said: Europe will be in crises and will be the sum of the solutions brought to them.”

Ursula, Christine and Kristalina, contribute at their level to shaping the new face of Europe while being the heirs of the history of their continent and of a construction that preceded them. Their influence can serve as a model within Europe – is K. Georgieva not the result of a sometimes forgotten part of it? – but also beyond its borders, and Kristalina is also the head of a global institution. And since these eminent women are here in the spotlight, we must also look outside Europe. Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who also worked for 25 years at the World Bank, became the first woman president of the World Trade Organization and the first representative of an African country at the head of the institution last February. This list is not exhaustive. Is Janet Yellen not today the first American Secretary of the Treasury? Progress applies to all.

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