Farewell to Mr Euro

Wim Duisenberg, the man who oversaw the introduction of the single currency to Europe, was found dead at his villa in the South of France yesterday. The 70-year-old Dutchman is thought to have drowned following a heart attack.

Born in 1935, Mr Duisenberg was the first president of the European Central Bank from its founding in 1998, arriving from 15 years’ service as the president of the Dutch central bank.

Germany and France “wrangled over” his appointment, said the BBC, resulting in a deal where Mr Duisenberg agreed to resign at some point during his eight-year tenure to make room for French central bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet, who succeeded him in November 2003.

During his five-year tenure he guided the ECB through the introduction of the euro as a wholesale currency in 1999, and then in notes and coins in 2002.

His “blunt style and blundering beginnings at first annoyed financial markets,” said Reuters. After being told at length by one eurozone leader the reasons that the ECB should cut interest rates, he replied “I hear but I do not listen.” However, “he earned grudging respect.”

Some critics argued that he should have cut interest rates more rapidly and aggressively to avert the slowdown in Europe’s economy, but  “it is probably too harsh to blame the eurozone’s current problems on Mr Duisenberg,” said the FT, pointing the finger at the failure of eurozone governments to agree on economic reform and fiscal discipline.

Politicians across Europe paid tribute, with Hans Eichel, Germany’s finance minister praising “his calm manner” which helped create “the vital basis of confidence in the euro” in the eurozone’s 300 million people