Can Europe Really Cram 17 Leaders in One Chair?

By Kati Suomenin
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
GERMAN MARSHAL FUND

WASHINGTON—The European Commission’s economic proposals to be unveiled on Wednesday will include a call for the Eurozone nations to pool their representation at the board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) into a single seat. Designed to boost the currency bloc’s clout at a time when emerging markets are seeking greater powers in the world body, the proposal is bound to meet resistance — not in Beijing or Brasilia, but right next door to Brussels, in Berlin and Paris.

The Commission’s calls for a single European seat go back a good decade, and reflect its interest in concentrating power in Brussels. Other prominent sponsors of the idea have included the former head of the European Central Bank Jean-Claude Trichet, EU president Herman Van Rompuy, and the Fund’s former managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Today, the Commission’s calls are motivated by a sense of a global assault on European powers in the world body. Reserve-rich emerging markets such as China and India have expressed a willingness to rescue the ailing eurozone from its prolonged financial crisis, but in return would likely want expanded voting share at the IMF, where European nations (EU plus Norway and Switzerland) collectively still hold a hefty 34 percent of the total vote — and the subset of eurozone nations hold 20 percent. Europeans also hold a third of the 24 board seats; eurozone nations Germany and France, as well as Britain, have their own, nonrotating chairs, along with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Japan, while Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and non-eurozone EU member Denmark as well as Switzerland represent groups of countries.

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