French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said Monday it was premature to discuss whether she would win the top job at the IMF and insisted any selection process should be open, transparent and merit-based.

Lagarde, a 55-year-old former lawyer, has scrupulously refused to comment on reports that she is emerging as Europe's consensus candidate to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the Washington-based lender following a series of endorsements by European colleagues.

Fellow Frenchman Strauss-Kahn, who had been leading in the polls ahead of France's 2012 presidential election, stepped down last week following his arrest on charges of attempted rape of a chambermaid in a New York hotel.

He strongly denies any wrongdoing.

Asked what she would do if offered the job, Lagarde told CNBC: What an interesting question but clearly premature. It is for others to decide, my dear.

European governments have said they wish to retain their traditional control over the leadership of the multilateral lender at a time when it is heavily involved in major bailouts in Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

The IMF has been run by a European since its creation in 1945 under a gentleman's agreement by which the United States appoints the leader of the World Bank.

Emerging economies, which saw their influence at the fund boosted by a review of its shareholding last year, are saying the selection of a new managing director must be based on merit, as agreed by the Group of 20 rich and developing nations at Pittsburgh two years ago.

Open, transparent and merit-based: that's the language you find in the Pittsburgh communique and in pretty much all the G20 communiques and literature about the IMF, and France very much sticks to that, Lagarde said.

The position of France is (the selection process should be) ...'open, transparent and merit based', she said.

The IMF aims to select a replacement for Strauss-Kahn by the end of next month. The biggest obstacle for Lagarde could come from a legal investigation into her decision to settle by arbitration a long-running dispute between the state and a businessman and friend of Sarkozy, who subsequently won a payoff of 285 million euros ($405 million).

A panel of judges is expected to decide by mid-June whether to launch a formal investigation into the case.

(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Ron Askew)