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EU calls on World Bank to quickly name Wolfowitz successor

The European Commission on Friday called on the World Bank to name a successor to its president Paul Wolfowitz as soon as possible, saying "stable and strong political leadership at its top is important."

Wolfowitz said Thursday that he would step down at the end of June, his leadership undermined by a furor over the compensation he arranged in 2005 for his girlfriend Shaha Riza, a bank employee.

The European Union's executive made no mention of the manner of Wolfowitz's departure, noting that under his leadership the working relationship between it and the bank had increased in intensity and in quality for the benefit of developing countries.

"This has been specially important and visible in Africa," it said. "The European Commission expresses its hopes that this will continue."

Wolfowitz ends a two-year run at the development bank that was marked by controversy from the start, given his previous role as a major architect of the Iraq war when he served as the No. 2 official at the Pentagon.

U.S. President George W. Bush's selection of Wolfowitz in 2005 for the bank post stunned Europeans and some other countries. Europeans were upset that Bush would tap someone so closely associated with the Iraq war. After the pay controversy erupted a month ago, Europeans led the charge for Wolfowitz to resign - although senior politicians did not denounce him publicly.

The Wolfowitz flap had been seen as a growing liability that threatened to tarnish the poverty-fighting institution's reputation and hobble its ability to persuade countries around the world to contribute billions of dollars to provide financial assistance to poor nations.

The White House said it would move quickly to name a new candidate to run the bank.

Bush "will have a candidate to announce soon, allowing for an orderly transition that will have the World Bank refocused on its mission," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Thursday.

Bush's selection must be approved by the World Bank's board.

Among those mentioned as a possible replacement for Wolfowitz were former Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who was Bush's former trade chief, Robert Kimmitt, the No. 2 at the Treasury Department and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

The 185-nation bank, created in 1945 to rebuild Europe after World War II, provides more than US$20 billion (euro14.8 billion) a year for projects such as building dams and roads, bolstering education and fighting disease worldwide. The bank's centerpiece program offers interest-free loans to the poorest countries.

By tradition, the bank has been run by an American. The Bush administration wanted to keep that decades-old practice intact as it dealt with the Wolfowitz situation. The United States is the bank's largest shareholder and its biggest financial contributor.

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