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ECB new chief Lagarde sets out to charm eurozone leader Germany

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Ms Lagarde is seeking to improve the ECB's ties with Germany after years of cooler relations under her predecessor Mario Draghi.

Frankfurt

EVER since she moved to Frankfurt as European Central Bank (ECB) president three months ago, Christine Lagarde has been working hard to charm the locals.

The institution's new chief has sought to turn a new leaf with Germany after years of cooler relations under her predecessor Mario Draghi. His stimulus policies, including negative interest rates that erased returns on savings, left many citizens in the ECB's home country feeling hard done by.

Ms Lagarde has already pledged that she'll attempt to learn German, the eurozone's most-spoken first language. But a quick glance at the Frenchwoman's Twitter feed is a further testament to her new drive to melt German hearts, displaying more meetings with dignitaries from the country than anywhere else. If she carries on like this, other members of the bloc could get jealous.

Here's a selection of what Ms Lagarde has been doing to woo the Germans since she took office on Nov 1, 2019.

Ms Lagarde's very first engagement was on her initial working day in the office. She flew to Berlin to deliver a speech lauding Wolfgang Schaeuble, the former finance minister who is now the president of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. Her remarks were loaded with praise both for him, and his country.

"You embody what I see as the model of 'Germany in Europe' - the Germany that is an implacable defender of its values and a beacon of liberalism and democracy, but also the Germany that is ready to move when needed to uphold the European idea," she said.

One month into the job, Ms Lagarde went to visit the mayor of Frankfurt, Peter Feldmann, at the medieval town hall known as the Roemer. Here she is meeting him in that building's Emperor Hall, which features 19th-century portraits of all the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire.

Last month, she visited Frankfurt's Staedel Museum with her new colleague, Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann, to see the Vincent Van Gogh exhibition there.

The show might have offered a particular opportunity for the Bundesbanker to bond with the Frenchwoman. He spent time at university in southern France, where Van Gogh painted some of his most important works.

Ms Lagarde turned 64 on Jan 1. Two weeks later, she returned to the Roemer to deliver her first speech of the year. To mark the occasion, Mr Feldmann gave her a couple of espresso cups decorated with the silhouette of Frankfurt's most famous son, the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Her remarks quoted Goethe, highlighted the city's history and culture, and generally sought to build bridges with the locals.

"Thanks to your generosity and openness, I have felt immediately at home here. In recognition of that, I truly intend - as president of the ECB - for my institution to reflect the spirit of this community and to play an active part in it." The evening didn't end there. In a rite of passage for any Frankfurt resident, Ms Lagarde sampled specialties that somehow haven't taken off as exports, including Apfelwein - a local version of cider - and Gruene Sosse, a green sauce often served with eggs or schnitzel. Mr Feldmann's tweet describes "the moment that a new Frankfurter eats Gruene Sosse and says 'it's lovely'."

Last Monday, Ms Lagarde attended the new year reception of the Brussels representative office of Baden-Wuerttemberg. The state in Germany's southwestern-most corner boasts the Black Forest, and is a manufacturing hub which is home to carmaker Daimler.

She and a host of lawmakers and civil servants enjoyed local southern German specialties, including Maultaschen, a delicacy similar to Italian ravioli but bigger and filled with minced meat, among other things. In a short speech, she still kept up the charm offensive.

"I'm here especially because it's a wonderful opportunity to meet with you, with your colleagues, to have a nice beer, and to wish all of you a very, very successful year." BLOOMBERG