Denmark may vote against US World Bank candidate

The American candidate for head of the World Bank is not guaranteed Danish support the development minister says

As the World Bank's 187 members gear up to elect its next president, Denmark is giving no assurances that it will back the American candidate.

The announcement was made by the development  minister, Christian Friis Bach, who met all the three candidates vying for the top post at the World Bank, the principal lender to developing countries, in Brussels this morning.

Every president since the organisation's inception in 1945 has been American. But Bach, speaking to Politiken newspaper, said the American candidate is no longer a shoe-in.

“The global power balance has been changing in recent years and Europe has to do something to retain its influence. The US and Asia can make decisions without involving us. It is no coincidence that the US has put forward a candidate who is half South Korean,” Bach said.

“The Americans have been in touch with us and we have told them that we will choose the candidate who is best suited to managing the world’s most important development institutions in the world.”

Bach has not ruled out voting for the American candidate, Jim Yong Kim, a physician and leading global health expert. Kim faces tough competition, however, as unlike his two rivals, José Antonio Ocampo from Columbia and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria, Kim has neither run a major international organisation, nor does he have their same level of experience in finance and economics.

Instead, many commentators have argued that Okonjo-Iweala, the current Nigerian finance minister and former World Bank managing director, is the most suitable candidate.

“In appointing its next president, the bank’s board should reject the nominee of its most influential shareholder, America, and pick Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,” the Economist wrote.

The Financial Times echoed that sentiment. “In this less than ideal world, Mr Kim’s appointment seems inevitable. But if the bank’s shareholders wanted the best president, they would opt for Ms Okonjo-Iweala.”

Søren Pind, the development minister during for the previous government, expressed his dissatisfaction with Bach’s statements.

“Chrisitan Friis Bach is not promising support for the American candidate as the new head of the World Bank. It’s completely crazy and is a real break in our close alliance with America. Are there no boundaries for what this government is prepared to destroy?” Pind wrote on Facebook.

Bach responded swiftly, also on Facebook. “I understand that Søren Pind has written on Facebook that we should always choose the American candidate as president of the World Bank rather than the best candidate. Can I remind the former development minster that it was decided while he was minister that the position should be filled as a result of qualifications through an open process.”

The new president will be determined at its spring meeting on April 20.