Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Christine Lagarde is moving to Frankfurt to take on the most powerful and important job in Europe — just when the European Union needs her most.

What's happening: As the new head of the European Central Bank, she won't just be in charge of setting monetary policy for 19 wildly disparate European countries; she'll also be charged with protecting the euro itself, the single most visible and controversial element of the European project.

  • The biggest crisis facing the EU is Brexit, which is due to happen on October 31. Lagarde will need more than monetary tools to keep the rest of Europe unified during that seismic event.

Background: Lagarde does not fit any of the stereotypes of a central banker. For one thing, she'll be only the second woman ever to run a major central bank. (The first, of course, was Janet Yellen.)

  • Central bankers tend to be decidedly unglamorous, as well as being male. Think gray economists in gray suits spouting gray jargon in a windowless conference room in Basel. At the highest ranks, you might find a hint of mahogany.
  • Lagarde is not an economist, but she is a politician. She first came to international prominence when she served as the French finance minister from 2007 to 2011.
  • She's also impossibly glamorous, by central bank standards. See, for instance: the 20-page Forbes slideshow dedicated to "the most fashionable woman in finance;" her appearance between Carey Mulligan and Tilda Swinton on Vanity Fair's best dressed list; a U.K. newspaper headline calling her "the world's sexiest woman."

Why she matters: Lagarde is famous and powerful entering the ECB — something that could not be said for any of the men on the shortlist. Some central bankers become famous in the course of doing their jobs, but almost none of them are well-known beforehand. (The closest example would probably be the Bank of England's Mark Carney, who toyed with running to become the leader of Canada's Liberal party, and who might yetdo so.)

  • As head of the IMF from 2011 until last Tuesday, Lagarde effectively corralled a highly disparate set of shareholders as she navigated the Greek financial crisis and helped to orchestrate the nation's bailout.
  • Amazingly, given the IMF's reputation as the last bastion of despised neoliberalism, she exits that position even more respected than she entered it.

What they're saying: Lagarde's preexisting clout will be of great utility in her new position. As Bloomberg's John Authers writes: "The euro is a political project above all, born of the anxiety of the last generation of leaders to fight in the Second World War to ensure that the continent should be bound together. And it requires a politician to hold it together."

The bottom line: With inflation below target across the continent, the monetary-policy task facing any incoming ECB president is clear. The ECB's rate-setting committee knows what it has to do. The difficulties come in the political aspect of the ECB presidency. That's where Lagarde is uniquely qualified.

Go deeper

5 mins ago - Health

U.S. reaches 200,000 coronavirus deaths

Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Axios Visuals

The coronavirus has now killed 200,000 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: Whatever context you try to put this in, it is a catastrophe of historic proportions — and is yet another reminder of America's horrific failure to contain the virus.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Mitt Romney says he'll support moving forward with Supreme Court pick

Photo: Greg Nash/AFP/Pool via Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) announced Tuesday that he would support moving forward with a Senate vote on President Trump's selection to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Why it matters: Barring any big surprises, Democrats have virtually no shot at stopping the confirmation process for the president’s nominee before November’s election.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

In UN address, Trump says China "unleashed this plague onto the world"

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump used a virtual address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday to defend his response to the coronavirus and call on other countries to “hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world: China.”

Setting the scene: Trump ticked through four years of major decisions and accomplishments in what could be his last address to the UN. But first, he launched into a fierce attack on China as Beijing’s representative looked on in the assembly hall.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!