- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

BRUSSELS (Agence France-Presse) — The European Union moved toward accepting Paul Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank despite an initial cool response to the U.S. nomination, key leaders said yesterday.

A consensus emerged at an EU summit that the U.S. deputy defense secretary, a key architect of the Iraq war, would be an acceptable choice to lead the global development-funding institution.

EU finance ministers want him to come to Brussels before his appointment is confirmed at the end of the month to explain his position on issues such as debt relief. On Tuesday, several called him a “serious candidate” for the job.

But German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said yesterday he thought Europe would not block Mr. Wolfowitz’s path to the job.

Even if the nomination “does not lead to an overflowing of enthusiasm in Europe … his nomination will not fail because of Germany,” said Mr. Schroeder, who was fiercely opposed to the Iraq war. “And I have the impression that it will not fail due to the other countries in Europe.”

EU officials have shown little liking for a fight over the nomination, despite discomfort with Mr. Wolfowitz’s war views and an open outcry against the neoconservative icon among liberal activist and environmental groups.

One idea circulating in Brussels, notably in French circles, is that, in exchange for backing Mr. Wolfowitz, the European Union might seek U.S. support for Frenchman Pascal Lamy’s bid to be the next head of the World Trade Organization.

Dutch Ambassador to the United States Boudewijn van Eenennaam told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday that relations between the Netherlands and the United States are excellent.

He said that while most Dutch and Europeans still disagreed with the U.S. war in Iraq, the “tone” had improved considerably since President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited.

“We like the nomination, well, not all the nominations, but at least the one at the State Department,” he said.

“Both [John R. Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz] are highly qualified. It would be unacceptable to disqualify them” just based on their reputations, he said. “But you cannot expect all in Europe to stand and applaud” the two choices.

The United States and EU countries together hold about 35 percent of votes for the World Bank job.

With gargantuan trade fights looming between the United States and Europe over aircraft subsidies and other issues, analysts note that the World Bank job — doling out $20 billion in aid to the world’s poorest countries — seems minor in the scheme of things.

As head of the bank, Mr. Wolfowitz would have command of far less resources than he has at the Pentagon, which currently spends about $500 billion a year.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said most people will be “pleasantly surprised” if Mr. Wolfowitz becomes president of the World Bank.

“Paul Wolfowitz is a very distinguished and experienced international public servant,” he told British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) Radio from Brussels. “If his nomination is approved, we will happily work with him,” he said. “People will be pleasantly surprised by this man.

Irish Finance Minister Brian Cowen agreed that Europe will back him. “The realpolitik of the situation is that in all likelihood Mr. Wolfowitz will be appointed as chairman of the bank,” he said.

Since his nomination, Mr. Wolfowitz has sought to appease his critics by pledging that he will be nobody’s stooge.

“If I am chosen to be the president, then I would view my job as trying to pull together the strongest possible consensus to get the thing done,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times last week.

Mr. Wolfowitz described the World Bank’s mission to reduce global poverty as “one of the greatest moral challenges of our time,” while stressing the importance of fighting corruption and promoting transparency.

• Staff writers Patrice Hill and Tom Carter contributed to this report from Washington.

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