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Sunday, March 20, 2005

E.U. Fury Grows at Wolfowitz Appointment

The US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, has been summoned to Brussels to explain to an angry Europe how he would run the World Bank, in an escalation of the international row over his nomination to head the world's most important development body.

European countries are furious both at President George Bush's naming of an enemy of multilateralism and by the unilateral way it was done, and are considering whether to block it. But there are strong indications that, although Tony Blair knew of the appointment in advance, he did not inform his Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn.

The summons - officially described as an "invitation" - was issued by Louis Michel, the new EU Development Commissioner, while he was attending a summit of G8 environment and development ministers in Derbyshire on Friday. His demand was welcomed by many EU governments, but Mr Wolfowitz, who has stressed his willingness to "listen" to his critics, has yet to respond.

A spokesman for Mr Michel said that Mr Wolfowitz was being asked to present his "vision for development and the role of the World Bank", which provides more than $20bn (£10.4bn) in funds to developing countries each year.

By tradition the US effectively appoints the president of the World Bank, while Europe chooses the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), its sister institution, even though the appointments are formally made by the institutions' boards. Until five years ago nominations were nodded through, but the US then blocked the European nomination for the IMF, creating a precedent. And just 10 days ago Mr Blair's Commission for Africa concluded that the practice should be replaced by an open competition to find the best candidate.

Europe collectively has 30 votes on the World Bank board, compared with jst 16 for the US, and governments are considering whether to use the Africa commission's recommendation and the IMF precedent to block the appointment. The EU and several governments are pointedly referring to Mr Bush's announcement as a "proposal" rather than a "nomination".

Most experts believe that, Europe will agree Mr Wolfowitz's appointment, rather than risk a prolonged row that might damage the bank.

But anger is rising both at the nomination itself and Mr Bush's arrogance in making it, after initial soundings had met with widespread opposition around the world. One senior British figure privately described it as an "abuse" of power by Mr Bush last week.

But Britain failed to raise the issue - or the Commission for Africa's recommendation - at an hour-long discussion of the commission's report at the summit. This has increased speculation that Mr Blair was squared by Mr Bush before the announcement was made.

Geoffrey Lean
The Independent on Sunday


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