Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker is widely admired by European business and financial officials, but they say they aren't prepared to fight for his reappointment by President Reagan when his term as chairman expires in August.
"Appointment of an American central bank head is peculiarly an internal American decision that we should not try to affect," a Swedish banker and former finance ministry official said in an interview.
An American official in close touch with European business executives and government leaders added: "Businessmen like Volcker, but they know he's not indispensable. And political figures, if anything, tend to be anti-Volcker because he's blamed for high interest rates."
On balance, most business executives and bankers interviewed in Europe recently expressed high regard for Volcker, and assume that he would like to continue as chairman for at least the next two to three years to assure a continuity of his policies that have helped shrink inflation rates.
They would applaud a reappointment: He has charisma, confidence, and expert knowledge. Like former secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Volcker is a commanding presence wherever he goes.
But Europeans recognize, nonetheless, that Reagan may decide, for a combination of political and economic reasons, to name his own man. If he does, that won't upset them. Implicit is the assumption that Reagan would name someone "safe" like economist Alan Greenspan whose policies wouldn't differ much from Volcker's.
It has been widely assumed here that one of the key considerations as Reagan considers whether to offer Volcker an extension of his term is Volcker's high standing in the financial communities abroad.
In the past several weeks, as the question of reappointing Volcker has been debated in Congress and in the press, it has been asserted that replacing him would cause anxiety, if not consternation, in financial markets, especially in Europe.
Financial publications in the United States and Europe have reported without qualification that Europeans have strongly urged Volcker's reappointment because he is the American official with the most significant international financial experience.
That overstates the case, which, as seen in Europe, has many more subtleties. Volcker's skills are warmly appreciated. He gave stronger and earlier support than did the Treasury to expansion of the International Monetary Fund's resources in the wake of the burgeoning Third World debt crisis last year. In addition, he began a retreat as early as mid-1982 from the semimonetarist approach that he himself had introduced into Fed policy in 1979, which helped soften interest rates worldwide.
Most Europeans who have talked with Volcker in the past few weeks believe he would continue present policies, with a goal of achieving even lower interest rates over the next year. They appreciate his dedication to international economic consultation, which they think is more sophisticated than the president's.
They also approve Volcker's reiteration of the theme that the U.S. budget deficits must be curtailed sharply over the next several years, so as to permit this posture of relative ease.
For all these reasons, they would be delighted to see him continue in the job. But they think Greenspan or CEA Chairman Martin S. Feldstein, if named to the top job at the Fed, would also stress budget control, with the view of lowering interest rates.
The main "goal" among Europeans for American economic policy is not the retention of Volcker, but an alteration in the U.S. fiscal-monetary mix that will encourage a further reduction in interest rates. Most European experts interviewed feel that the chances of this happening would be about the same under a new chairman as under Volcker.
In fact, Volcker has made clear that unless the existing and prospective budget deficits are sharply reduced, the Fed's relative monetary ease of the past year might have to be abandoned.
There was widespread European support for and approval of Volcker when he was brought into the job by former president Carter in 1979 to replace G. William Miller, who was lightly regarded both here and abroad. Volcker's sturdy reputation at that time, coupled with the tighter monetary policy he produced, helped to stabilize a dollar that had been steadily weakening. He was a symbol of a turn in American policy.
Now, of course, as a result of Volcker's successes, the dollar has surged, making many European currencies and the Japanese yen embarrassingly weak.