22nd Feb 2020

EU finance ministers defend ECB independence

Several EU finance ministers have stressed their support for the full independence of the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB), shortly after the victory of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who had attacked the bank's interest rate policy in his election campaign.

"I don't think that the ECB can be put, or should be put, on a leash," Peer Steinbrück, the German finance minister said at a press conference following the ministerial meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (8 May).

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He added that the bank's independence is "in regards to respect and trustworthiness, especially important."

Other ministers echoed the position of the German EU presidency, suggesting France would have difficulty in finding allies to push for change to the ECB statute to establish political control of eurozone interest rates.

"It is not a good idea," Dutch finance minister Wouter Bos said.

"No politician should put pressure on the ECB. The ECB is an independent bank," Austrian finance minister Wilhelm Molterer added, according to press reports.

The remarks follow several attacks by Mr Sarkozy on the central bank and its inflation-taming interest rate policy, seen by some as harmful for eurozone growth and as keeping the euro artificially high against the dollar.

French exporters have been hit by the strong euro, with Mr Sarkozy taking their complaints on board in campaign statements such as "independence doesn't mean indifference."

He has also said the ECB should be "an instrument of economic policy serving growth and employment" instead of a tool for maintaining European price stability.

There is speculation that Mr Sarkozy may push for a change to the ECB statute during the current talks on reviving the EU constitution, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters two years back.

But such a move would be seen as undermining German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is trying to achieve a breakthrough deal on the constitution at an EU leaders summit next month.

Mrs Merkel has previously spoken out against the French calls for political control over the ECB.

"If we want to preserve confidence in the euro, we must leave it outside political debate, leave the European Central Bank its independence," she said. "That is the very firm German position."

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