Cantillon: How Christine Lagarde’s ‘potential’ was lost in translation

Loose interpretation of IMF chief’s words on ‘Grexit’ had the power to move markets

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde was perhaps a little loose with her words when talking to the ‘FAZ’. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde was perhaps a little loose with her words when talking to the ‘FAZ’. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

If loose lips sink ships, what might sink Greece? That was the question hovering over the G7 finance minister meeting in Dresden where journalists, banished to a windowless, newsless hotel cellar, pounced gratefully on what Christine Lagarde did or didn’t say about Greece.

After a dull day on Thursday, the IMF chief electrified the Dresden gathering by apparently telling the Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ) daily that a Grexit scenario was a “possibility”. Worse, this would be “not the end of the euro”.

Soon after the newspaper flashed the story on its website and news wires whirled into action, the wheels began to come off the Lagarde wagon.

The FAZ withdrew the quotes from its online story without saying why, while the IMF suggested the FAZ quotes were a case of Chinese whispers.

So who said what? The FAZ asked Lagarde if a Grexit was weighing on her mind. She said the talks were “not a walk in the park” and expressed hope that Europe would “find a path to agree with the future of Greece within the euro zone. But, you know, it’s a potential . . . ”

Cut off at this point by another question, her staff say she intended to say “hypothesis”. How they know this is unclear, as they admitted they didn’t check with Lagarde herself.

By late Thursday evening the IMF was calling the FAZ every minute, demanding a retraction. The FAZ eventually performed a half retraction, removing the quote but not its gist. They insist they got the green light for their translation of the quotes from Lagarde’s press people.

Cantillon, after taking a closer look at the evidence, can report that the FAZ took the word “potential” and translated it into German as “möglichkeit” which was then translated back into English by Reuters as “possibility”. So, a word used in its original context as an adjective was lost in translation and became a noun, with potential to move markets.

No one looks good in this mess: the IMF chief was a little overly chatty, mentioning in public what everyone knows in public; her press people failed to spot the banana skin when they had the chance; and the FAZ, a furious critic of Greece and its EU/IMF programme, couldn’t resist a dose of wishful thinking.

Suddenly the warning of US treasury secretary Jacob Lew seems prescient: “It takes only one accident . . . ”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.