The controversial U.S. candidate to head the World Bank has secured the backing of the European Union for his nomination after meeting with top EU finance and development officials in Brussels. Paul Wolfowitz, considered by many Europeans to be an architect of the Iraq war, reassured the EU officials that he is committed to fighting poverty.
Mr. Wolfowitz, currently the deputy U.S. defense secretary, made a hasty trip to EU headquarters on the eve of a World Bank board meeting in Washington that will pick the institution's new chief.
Traditionally, the United States chooses the head of the World Bank while Europeans get to appoint the boss of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
But Mr. Wolfowitz's nomination by President Bush has raised questions among many Europeans because of his strenuous advocacy of the war in Iraq. And non-governmental organizations engaged in development activities have cast doubt on his credentials to lead a multilateral institution like the World Bank.
It appears unlikely, however, that European governments will block his nomination. EU diplomats say they are satisfied with Mr. Wolfowitz's agenda for the Bank. And, at a brief news conference after the meeting with EU officials, the current head of the European Council of Governments, Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, of Luxembourg, referred to Mr. Wolfowitz as the incoming president of the World Bank.
For his part, Mr. Wolfowitz said he is eager to take on the challenge of heading the global lending institution if his nomination is approved on Thursday.
"I understand that I am, to put it mildly, a controversial figure, but I hope that, as people get to know me better, they will understand that I really do believe deeply in the mission of the Bank,” he said. “Helping people to lift themselves out of poverty is truly a noble mission, and nothing is more gratifying than being able to help people in need. But it's not just the material side of life that is improved when we promote economic development. Peace and freedom are also enhanced when people enjoy the benefits of prosperity and human dignity."
There are lingering concerns at the EU that Mr. Wolfowitz may use the World Bank position to push the Bush administration's agenda of promoting democracy instead of concentrating solely on the Bank's traditional tasks of poverty alleviation and economic development.
The Europeans are, therefore, seeking a larger role in running the Bank. France has urged Mr. Wolfowitz to appoint a European to a proposed new post of deputy World Bank president. Although he reassured the Europeans that they would exercise major influence at the lending institution, Mr. Wolfowitz declined to make any specific promises about individual jobs.
EU and U.S. diplomats say there was no mention during the meeting of any other trade-off in return for European support of Mr. Wolfowitz. The EU has been lobbying for U.S. support of Pascal Lamy, a former EU trade commissioner who is the EU candidate to head the World Trade Organization.