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Well-orchestrated deliberations on ECB minutes

Well-orchestrated deliberations on ECB minutes

No desire to add to cacophony on the euro

by David Marsh

Tue 6 Aug 2013

Mario Draghi, European Central Bank president, runs a much tighter ship than his predecessor Jean-Claude Trichet. The ECB’s well-orchestrated move to consider publishing minutes of its monthly monetary decision-making sessions was trailed in newspaper interviews last month by three board members, Peter Praet, Jörg Asmussen and Benoit Coeuré. Draghi confirmed it last week (although, showing that he is keeping all his options open, the ECB boss failed actually to use the word ‘minutes’). In the latter, troublesome part of Trichet’s era, when board members were frequently at loggerheads with each other, this kind of internal coordination would have been unthinkable.

In bringing to the media’s attention the ‘minutes’ discussion, the ECB has shown how much it has already refined its communication strategies. Allotting the media, the beguiling but second-order task of puzzling out what kind of meetings record the ECB may finally generate, provides a distraction from other more significant questions on the euro that ECB-watching journalists might otherwise be expected to tackle.

The ‘richer communication of the rationale behind its decisions’ (to use Draghi’s words) that the ECB eventually produces is unlikely to represent a breakthrough. As the president said, the ECB is ‘not a one-country set-up: we are not the US, the UK or Japan. We are members of a 17-country euro area’. Political sensitivity about naming the board members or central bank governors who argue for or against certain ideas remains strong.

Euro members are not, and probably never will be, in a political union. Council members are supposed to be there as individual experts rather than representatives of their own countries. However, everyone sees them (and, in many ways, they see themselves) as the latter rather than the former.

If that were not the case, there would be no hesitation about publishing detailed, named accounts of the arguments around the council table and of any voting that ensued. The fear that individual council members would be blamed in their own countries for articulating a certain point of view would be without foundation, because these members would be seen as representatives of Europe as a whole.

As it is, in future, the representatives of the larger countries, particularly Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank chief (a closet supporter of publishing minutes), will continue to let the outside world know, in different ways, what they think of certain proposals and decisions. And the smaller countries will remain tight-lipped about nearly everything, some because they are debtors and do not wish to rock the boat, others because of the perceived political sensitivities.

From the end of 2013, we will see more detailed information about the different arguments presented in council meetings. But we will not get specific names of who said what, or who voted which way. Euro members will have to decide many important issues in 2014. This includes ECB participation in debt relief for Greece and other problem countries. There will be enough cacophony outside the council chamber. The ECB has no wish to add to it.


David Marsh, chairman of Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum, is the author of 'Europe's Deadlock How the Euro Crisis Could be Solved - and Why it Won't Happen' (Yale University Press).

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