20 APRIL 1991, Page 20

Vision and design

NATIONAL misunderstandings are at work. M. Attali might reasonably regard himself as the epitome of the French intellectual. Just as reasonably, to Anglo- Saxon minds he seems difficult and even eccentric. These minds in their earthy way worry about who is going to look after the shop (or remember, until the last minute last week, to send out the invitations). M. Attali says that the Berd should have the freedom of a banque d'affaires, unshackled by bureaucracy — but a banque d'affaires has to bet its own money, and there are plenty of plausible people (Hungarians specialise in it) waiting to talk an unshack- led Berd out of £7 billion. Others are waiting for the Berd to crash-land. The World Bank and the International Finance Corporation think of the Berd as a fifth wheel on their coach. It is not, they say, as if eastern Europe were full of good deals to be done. The agencies fear that they will be played off against one another. The Euro- pean Commission and its offshoots are jealous of this new institution. M. Attali has maddened them by calling it the EUROPEAN BANK, in huge letters reconstruction and development are rele- gated to the small print. The City asks whether the Treasury was as clever as it thought in luring the Berd to its nest — so spiking London's chances of getting the European Central Bank, which might (especially to the City) be more worth having. Not all such Euro-whinges should be taken at their noise-value. A bit of competition is good for international agen- cies, however much they hate it. As for the Commission, it could learn from M. Attali, if it will not learn from its history books, that Europe does not stop where the Red Army stopped. That army, while it stayed, suited such Eurocrats as Jacques Delors, by giving their neat little Europe a clearly defined eastern border. Jacques Attali, self-proclaimed visionary, can see further than that, to a Europe stretching, as de Gaulle said, from the Atlantic to the Urals — so that Prague is not on its fringe but at its heart. He will not treat it, as the World Bank might, as a hitherto undiscovered part of the Third World. To his vision he can add contacts, political and economic, at the highest level; contacts plus money equals leverage. Translating his visions into effect, or even into English, is another matter. Those who deal with the Berd say politely that it is hard to find out what is in its president's mind at any one time. His command structure, notable for its absence of shackles, does not help them. What this Berd needs is not buoyancy but ballast. It needs practical people who can design loan agreements and fasten their nuts and bolts. It needs someone to do the job that Mr Stern refused, to be the anchor man. It needs a board of directors (they are minis- ters, but the officials who are their deputies do most of the work) who can make sure that it happens. They will have their hands full.