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Lagarde steps into Strauss-Kahn's shoes – and shadow

As France's former finance minister Christine Lagarde takes over as IMF chief, her first challenge will be to manage the Euro zone debt crisis. Her predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was widely hailed for his handling of the 2008 financial crash.


In what will be a closely watched first day on the job, newly named International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde officially assumed her duties on Tuesday.

Not only is the Frenchwoman and former finance minister the institution’s first female chief, she is also taking over for compatriot Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose hasty departure from the IMF in the wake of his arrest for the sexual assault of a New York hotel maid has been front-page news all over the world.

The pressure Lagarde faces to live up to both the history-making nature of her appointment and the standard set by Strauss-Kahn, a widely respected economist, is further intensified by the urgent tasks awaiting her, namely helping to put an end to Greece’s financial turmoil.

January 1, 1956: Born in Paris.

1981: Joins Paris branch of Baker & McKenzie law firm.

1999: Leaves for Chicago, becomes chair of Baker & McKenzie’s executive committee.

2002: The Wall Street Journal ranks her fifth on a list of European businesswomen.

2005: Becomes minister of trade in Jacques Chirac’s cabinet.

2007: Becomes minister of agriculture in Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet.

2007: Named minister of finance.

May 25, 2011: Announces candidacy for chief of IMF.

June 28, 2011: Named first female IMF chief.

Lagarde, who arrived in Washington Monday evening, is expected to hold a press conference on Wednesday. But on Tuesday she will likely already be tackling what the IMF has called in its internal online magazine a “busy work agenda”.

Working in Strauss-Kahn’s shadow

Most pressing on that agenda is the situation in Greece, as the eurozone and the IMF are expected to send the country the next tranche of aid – 12 billion euros -- from last year’s 110-billion-euro rescue package. Lagarde has called on Greece to enact the reforms necessary for their public finance sector to get back on its feet.

According to FRANCE 24 correspondent Stanislas de Saint Hippolyte, Lagarde will also “try to make more room for emerging economies” at the IMF and to establish her legitimacy in her new position, despite the fact that “she is not an economist by training”.

Lagarde’s lack of an academic background as an economist is particularly striking compared to the experience of her predecessor Strauss-Kahn, who has a doctorate in the field. And while she has said she intends to work in continuity from Strauss-Kahn, the two have differing political leanings. Strauss-Kahn is a Socialist, while Lagarde, who has served in cabinets of two centre-right presidents (Chirac and Sarkozy), is considered more economically liberal.

In addition to their experience and philosophy, there are differences in style between the two. “It’s very hard to take on the job after Dominique Strauss-Kahn,” said Sylvie Matelli, an international economics specialist at France’s Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), “especially given his charisma and his gift of gab”. Matelli said that Lagarde would likely prove to be a highly competent IMF chief, but that she does not yet have her predecessor’s stature in economics circles.

To some economists, like The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a concern is that Lagarde may be too sensible and cautious for these rocky economic times – particularly in comparison to what Krugman describes as Strauss-Kahn’s rather nimble leadership. “Under Strauss-Kahn, the IMF was staking out a position as the least dogmatic, most open-minded of the major international organizations. That’s not saying too much, but it was much better than the madmen in authority at the OECD or the BIS [Bank for International Settlements]," Krugman wrote on his blog last week. As for Lagarde, “in addition to being smart, by all accounts she’s serious, responsible, and judicious,” he wrote. “But that, of course, is what worries me.”

Aside from her daunting IMF work load, Lagarde will also be taking on a challenge with fewer global repercussions: the search for a new home. According to FRANCE 24 correspondent Stanislas de Saint Hippolyte, Lagarde may be looking at the leafy, well-off Georgetown neighbourhood – where Strauss-Kahn, as it happens, owns a house.

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