ECONOMY

Christodoulakis hails Trichet acquittal; ECB succession soon

Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, the current president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, hailed yesterday a Paris criminal court’s acquittal of Bank of France Governor Jean-Claude Trichet, clearing his way to become the president of the European Central Bank (ECB). «I welcome the decision of the French court to acquit Mr Trichet,» he said in a statement. The French Finance Ministry said after yesterday’s ruling that French President Jacques Chirac would confirm France’s support for Trichet’s candidacy at a three-day EU summit set to open today in a resort hotel at Halkidiki, northern Greece. «Following the statement of (French Finance Minister) Mr (Francis) Mer that France continues to support the candidacy of Mr Trichet for the ECB presidency, we can now move toward the appropriate steps for the smooth succession to Mr Duisenberg,» Christodoulakis said. Under a deal secured by Chirac in May 1998, Duisenberg was to step aside for a French candidate before the end of his term. Trichet is universally regarded as the front runner to succeed Duisenberg. It has been agreed that Duisenberg will step down as ECB president on July 9. Bank of Greece Governor and European Central Bank council member Nicholas Garganas welcomed Trichet’s acquittal, saying it ensured the ECB will have strong leadership. «I am very pleased to hear of today’s judgment. Mr Trichet is an extremely talented person and today’s acquittal paves the way for a very able leadership of the ECB,» Garganas told Reuters. European Commission President Romano Prodi also hailed the decision. EU presidency sources said yesterday that Trichet would take over as Europe’s central banker was not likely to be formally on the summit’s agenda. «Naturally, there will be an informal discussion of the ECB succession issue by EU leaders,» an authoritative EU source told Reuters. «But as a formal item, it should not be on the agenda as the deadline for an appeal (by French public prosecutors) must first expire.» The ECB looked set to be discussed on the margins of the summit. Public prosecutors have 10 days to decide whether to appeal the acquittal. They had recommended that Trichet be given a suspended sentence of at least 10 months. Trichet had been charged with complicity in publication of misleading accounts at Credit Lyonnais in the early 1990s, when it was his job as head of the Finance Ministry’s treasury department to keep tabs on state-owned groups, as Lyonnais was at the time. «Procedurally, the issue must first be dealt at the level of Eurogroup finance ministers before it formally reaches EU leaders,» the source said. The euro dipped briefly after the news of Trichet’s acquittal, but Laure Maillard of CDC-Ixis said Trichet’s appointment is unlikely to have any long-term impact on the currency. «Trichet shares the same opinion as other ECB council members that the current level of the euro is not a cause for concern,» she said. As for Trichet himself, he said he was «moved» by the court’s verdict. «I can’t help myself from saying it, I am moved by this court decision,» he said, without making any comments on his future at the ECB. (AFP, Reuters)