Europeans Wince, Wait For Wolfowitz Saga to End
Thursday, May 10, 2007
PARIS, May 9 -- As the world watches the Washington drama of World Bank chief Paul D. Wolfowitz fighting for his job, the audience in Europe has a plea: Can someone lower the curtain?
"This is a story that has gone on for too long," said a senior European Union diplomat in Brussels, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the issue. "The European Union, with its member states and institutions, is the biggest donor of humanitarian aid in the world, and we work very closely with the World Bank, and we don't think this crisis at the top can be of any help. On the contrary, it is undermining the bank."
But while European governments would prefer that Wolfowitz leave, they are intent on avoiding a public collision with the Bush administration over the issue, which means they are unlikely to authorize their World Bank representatives to vote to oust him, diplomats said in recent interviews.
Analysts note that if the bank's executive directors voted to remove Wolfowitz over the express wishes of the Bush administration, that would jeopardize Europe's long-standing, informal right to select the head of the bank's sister institution, the International Monetary Fund. Despite increasingly strident sentiment from Europe that it is time for Wolfowitz to pack up, most assume the bank's executive board -- whose members take orders from the capitals they represent -- lacks the political will to force him out.
"Everybody is very concerned about what would happen if you force a showdown," said a senior official at the International Monetary Fund who is familiar with European officials' thinking and who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The fact is that you need to have the cooperation of the United States. They need to get to a solution that the United States would accept."
A special bank panel found that Wolfowitz broke conflict-of-interest rules in arranging a raise and promotion to a State Department job for his girlfriend, an employee at the bank, after Wolfowitz took the top job there in 2005. The bank's 24-member board is expected to review the report this week, after which it can consider what, if any, disciplinary action to take.
Wolfowitz received the panel's findings Sunday and had until the end of the day Wednesday to deliver a written response. But after complaints from his attorney, Robert S. Bennett, the bank late yesterday extended that deadline to Friday.
The committee planned to append Wolfowitz's response to its report and pass it on to the full executive board for deliberations.
With the controversy in its seventh week, government officials, diplomats and political analysts in Europe said they were astonished at Wolfowitz's staying power.
The European Parliament has called for Wolfowitz to resign, and officials from Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and other European countries have issued statements along the same lines.
"Our position is quite clear: The sooner he resigns, the better," said Sascha Raabe, a Social Democrat in the German Parliament and a member of the legislature's committee for economic cooperation and development. "The World Bank president must exude authority and absolute integrity. And regardless of how guilty he is, his image is damaged."
Critical comments about Wolfowitz from European leaders "would seem to have left him little option but to resign with dignity, but it appears that he still has the strong backing of the [U.S.] president and vice president, and that risks turning this into another confrontational issue between the U.S. and its allies and partners," said John Palmer, a member of the governing board of the European Policy Center, a Brussels think tank.