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November 16, 2009 7:40 pm

FT ranking of EU finance ministers

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In a year when finance ministers have had to throw away their usual scripts and improvise on policy, who has come out top of the FT’s ranking? Our interactive guide shows how each of the European finance ministers was ranked politically, on economic criteria, on credibility and overall. Click on each minister to view their full profile.

See also:

Full article:    Crisis crew: Amid bank turmoil and a descent into recession, the poise and purposefulness of one minister stood out
Video:    Lionel Barber interviews the winner, Christine Lagarde | Ralph Atkins’s analysis
Article:   Christine Lagarde calls for competition inquiry into financial sector
About the ranking:    The jury’s comments | How the ranking was compiled
Previously:    2008 ranking
Data:    The results in full (requires Excel)

Profiles by: Ralph Atkins, John Murray Brown, Chris Bryant, Jan Cienski, Guy Dinmore, Chris Giles, Ben Hall, Kerin Hope, Victor Mallet, Stanley Pignal, Michael Steen, Andrew Ward, Peter Wise

Crisis Crew

This has been a year when finance ministers have had to throw away their usual scripts and improvise on policy as Europe battled against the worst crisis since the second world war. They also had to act together – co-ordinating among themselves and at endless global summits aimed at putting the show back on the road.

Events have been epic since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. The Financial Times’ fourth annual European finance minister of the year award therefore reflects performances during 12 months of highly testing world economic drama.

And the winner is ... Christine Lagarde. France’s finance minister has become a star among world financial policy-makers. The judges loved her performances on the international stage when it came to regulation and the future of banking. France’s economy has also been among the most resilient in the industrial world. It was always well balanced – reliant neither on exports nor on an over-inflated housing market and with a large, stabilising public sector. But the French government’s swift fiscal action was also important in averting an even deeper recession.

Speaking to the FT, Ms Lagarde almost delights in how she broke the rules. “Europe was ahead of the curve when it operated in a ‘transgressional’ mode – in other words when we sometimes ignored the rules, when we bypassed the normal formats, when we included Great Britain in the eurogroup [meetings of finance ministers from the eurozone countries].”

Marco Annunziata, chief economist at Italy’s Unicredit and one of the judges, says the French minister “played a prominent role in the management of the crisis at the international level, showing a strong determination to forge a co-ordinated response.” But another judge, Jacques Delpla of France’s Conseil d’Analyse Economique, warns that his country’s fiscal confidence is storing up problems for the future, saying: “Ms Lagarde has been unable to give any credible commitment towards restoring a fiscal balance in the medium run.”

Overall, reckons Michael Heise, chief economist at Allianz, the German insurer, Europe’s finance ministers “performed well in an unprecedented crisis and their joint action contributed to averting a re-run of the Great Depression”.

As well as a ranking by a judging panel, this year’s awards looked at the robustness and stability of Europe’s main economies.

The competition tried to give credit for the extra fiscal stimulus injected by finance ministers to haul their economies out of recession – but also to reward those most likely to bring public sector deficits swiftly back under control.

Out of the European Union’s 27 economies, some of the smallest were excluded – leaving 19 competition entrants. Non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland were also left out. The deadline for entries meant George Papaconstantinou, Greece’s new finance minister, was included. But Germany was represented by Peer Steinbrück rather than Wolfgang Schäuble, who replaced him less than three weeks ago.

Some ministers proved more controversial than others. Erik Nielsen of Goldman Sachs praises Ireland’s Brian Lenihan and the bold measures Dublin took to address the country’s particularly severe economic and banking crisis. Other judges were still reeling from Ireland’s go-it-alone approach in the immediate aftermath of the Lehman collapse, and the country is still deep in crisis. Mr Lenihan, second to last in 2008, came bottom of this year’s rankings.

Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker did not fare as well as might be expected. He chairs the eurogroup but often the lead was taken by others, including President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Ms Lagarde.

The strong performers included Sweden’s Anders Borg and Italy’s Giulio Tremonti – the former for the respect he has built during his country’s EU presidency, the latter for his relatively firm handling of Italy’s notoriously wayward public finances.

Mr Tremonti’s strong showing highlights how fortunes have often been transformed by the financial crisis: in previous years, Italy had come close to the end of the rankings; just two years ago, Ms Lagarde was bottom of the pile.

And what about last year’s winner – Finland’s Jyrki Katainen? He slipped to 12th position in 2009, largely because of the battering his country’s export-dependent economy took during the crisis. Ms Lagarde beware: not even an FT prize guarantees a happy ending.

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