French finance minister Christine Lagarde has secured the unanimous backing of the European Union [Reuters]

France's finance minister, Christine Lagarde, has said she will apply to lead the International Monetary Fund [IMF], after she received wide European backing for the job.

"I have decided to present my candidacy," she said on Wednesday, adding that she had made the decision "after mature reflection".

Lagarde announced her candidacy after securing the unanimous backing of the 27-nation European Union and, diplomats said, support from the United States and China.

"It is an immense challenge which I approach with humility and in the hope of achieving the broadest possible consensus," Lagarde said, adding that she planned to travel extensively in the coming weeks to talk with other member states.

"If I'm elected I'll bring all my expertise as a lawyer, a minister, a manager and a woman'' to the job, she said.

The 55-year-old centre-right politician, a former corporate lawyer, has won praise for her skillful chairing meetings of the G20 finance ministers, and for her communications skills.

However, unlike Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF chief who resigned last week after being charged with the attempted rape of a hotel maid in New York, she is not an economist.

Megan Greene, from the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, told Al Jazeera it looked increasingly likely that there would be a European head in the IMF.

"Lagarde isn't the strongest candidate from an economics perspective but she is excellent in terms of politics," she said.

"Being at the head of the IMF during the European debt crisis would be excellent because it is fundamentally a political crisis, as much as it is a debt crisis."

Firm favourite

An EU source said that Lagarde was practically certain to become Europe's candidate, although she has been dogged by a French judicial investigation into allegations of abuse of power.

"I have a perfectly clear conscience" about that affair, she said on Wednesday after her announcement.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - the so-called 'BRICS' economies - sharply criticised EU officials in a joint statement for suggesting the next IMF head should be a European, a convention dating back to the founding of the global lender at the end of World War II.

"We feel it is outrageous to have the post reserved for a European," Nogueira Batista, IMF executive director from Brazil, said.

However, the group has failed to unite behind a common alternative candidate.

Diplomats said their complaint was mostly aimed at securing a commitment from developed countries that nationality will no longer be a covert factor for selecting future IMF chiefs.

In a nod to the emerging nations' concerns, Lagarde said she would work for "greater representativity and greater flexibility" at the IMF if she were elected.

"You can understand the argument of developing countries against having a European at the head of the IMF," Greene said.

"First of all, the Europeans have gotten themselves into this mess [debt crisis] so why would you stick a European at the head of an institution that Europe's really relying on to help get them out of it.

"... but it would be helpful in negotiations between the European Commission, the EU, the ECI and the IMF to have an European at the head, in terms of solving the euro crisis at least."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies