Richard North, 01/08/2005  

It is perhaps not in the best of taste to make feeble jokes immediately after the death of Wim Duisenberg, the first President of the European Central Bank and the man who oversaw the transition of the euro from being a market traded currency to becoming “coins and notes in the pockets of 300 million people in 12 European countries”, as the BBC website thrillingly says.

Duisenberg was, thus, the (male) midwife of the euro, rather than the father as he has been described in a few ill-judged news stories. If anyone is to be seen as the father of the euro it is Jacques Delors, who is still flourishing.

Probably, the most important fact about Wim Duisenberg, apart from his appalling wife, from whose pronouncements on politics he had to distance himself, was that he stepped down from his position three and a half years earlier than he should have done, in order to further friendly relations between France and Germany and, thus, European integration. Greater love hath no man …

According to the Maastricht Treaty, the President of the ECB would serve eight years at a stretch. And, as we know, treaties must not be broken, except when it is the French throwing their toys out of the pram.

Duisenberg, the former Dutch Finance Minister was backed for the position of the first President of the ECB by several countries, including Germany. But there seems to be an unwritten law in European affairs that France must have first call on all the really important positions.

France backed Jean-Claude Trichet, who was, sadly, embroiled in the Crédit Lyonnais scandal, from which he emerged with flying colours and not a stain on his name.

A deal was concluded. Duisenberg would serve eight years as written in the Maastricht Treaty but he would resign after four years. Neat, huh? As it turned out, the resignation had to be postponed in order to let M Trichet’s problems sort themselves out.

Given that Duisenberg’s great achievement, the euro in the pocket, is not proving to be a huge success or a particularly popular development, one wonders whether its curse is now extending itself beyond the unfortunate countries that are part of the eurozone to the people who have created this mess.

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