France's finance minister Christine Lagarde has emerged as Europe's likely candidate to lead the International Monetary Fund.
The IMF insists that the departure of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has not hurt its day-to-day operations, but is clearly under pressure to find a successor fast to lead a body that provides billions of dollars of loans to stabilise the world economy.
A new chief would also draw attention away from the scandal surrounding Strauss-Kahn, who resigned to contest charges in New York that he tried to rape a hotel maid.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday she "very much appreciates" the French finance minister but insisted she was not announcing Mrs Lagarde's candidacy, just sharing her views.
Mrs Merkel said the next IMF chief should be a European because the fund is deeply involved in tackling the eurozone's sprawling debt crisis. Germany's view is critical since it is the continent's powerhouse economy and funds much of the bailouts to other eurozone nations.
The IMF may face a choice between choosing its first woman leader or its first leader from the developing world. Emerging economies see Europe's traditional stranglehold on the position as increasingly out of touch with the world economy, but have not yet united around a candidate.
Mrs Lagarde, 55, has a clean-cut image and has been praised for her acumen in helping steer Europe through the global financial crisis and its more recent debt woes. She speaks impeccable English and spent much of her career in the United States as a lawyer.
One of the longest-serving ministers under French President Nicolas Sarkozy, she eased French labour laws and helped France weather its worst recession since the Second World War better than many other developed countries.
Questions have surfaced about Lagarde's role in getting arbitration for maverick businessman Bernard Tapie, who won 285 million euro (£248 million) as compensation for the mishandling of the 1990s sale of sportswear maker Adidas in 2008. Lagarde was finance minister at the time. No formal investigation has been announced, but prosecutors are looking into the matter.
Candidates from outside the EU include Turkey's former finance minister, Kemal Dervis, who has also spent decades at the IMF; Singapore's finance chief, Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Indian economist Montek Singh Ahluwalia.