TARGET balances, Bretton Woods, and the Great Depression
Michael Bordo21 March 2014
Since 2007, there has been a buildup of TARGET imbalances within the Eurosystem – growing liabilities of national central banks in the periphery matched by growing claims of central banks in the core. This column argues that, rather than signalling the collapse of the monetary system – as was the case for Bretton Woods between 1968 and 1971 – these TARGET imbalances represent a successful institutional innovation that prevented a repeat of the US payments crisis of 1933.
During the Eurozone crisis, an analogy was made between the events in Europe between 2007 and 2012 and the collapse of the Bretton Woods System between 1968 and 1971. There has been a build-up of TARGET liabilities since 2007 by some central banks (notably Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, or the ‘GIPS’), and of TARGET assets by Germany and others.
German Court decision: Legal authority and deep power implications
Katharina Pistor26 February 2014
Who wields supreme power over the ECB? This column analyses the recent ruling by the German Constitutional Court that the ECB cannot act as lender of last resort. Although seemingly couched by the referral of this decision to the European Court of Justice, this is a bid for power and the return to the pre-crisis paradigm of ‘ultra posse nemo obligatur’.
Can the European Central Bank legally act as lender of last resort to ensure the survival of the euro?
This question is of fundamental importance for the sustainability of the monetary union. Recently, the German Constitutional Court ruled that it cannot. In the court’s view the ECB has the power to conduct monetary policy, but not to support member states in financial distress even if necessary to ensure the survival of the common currency.
Nicholas Crafts talks to Viv Davies about his recent work on the threatening issue of public debt in the Eurozone. Crafts maintains that the implicit fault line in the EZ is evident; several EZ economies face a long period of fiscal consolidation and low growth and that a different sort of central bank might be preferable. They also discuss the challenges and constraints of banking, fiscal and federal union. The interview was recorded in London on 17 January 2014.
Single supervision and resolution rules: Is ECB independence at risk?
Donato Masciandaro, Francesco Passarelli21 December 2013
During the Great Moderation, central banks focused on price stability, and independence was seen as crucial to limit inflation bias. Since the Global Financial Crisis, emergency support measures for banks, and central banks’ increasing involvement in supervision, have called central bank independence into question. This column argues that the literature has overlooked the distributional effects of the tradeoff between monetary and financial stability. In a political economy framework, heterogeneity in voters’ portfolios can cause the degree of central bank independence to differ from the social optimum.
Lucia Dalla Pellegrina, Donato Masciandaro, Rosaria Vega Pansini
A successful transition to a European Banking Union requires robust and credible ‘Chinese walls’ between the ECB’s role as monetary authority and any responsibility in the Single Supervisory Mechanism or in the resolution rules. Otherwise, the ECB’s independence would be at risk, given that monetary policy would likely have larger distributional effects.
This column argues that the legacy of public debt resulting from the crisis in the Eurozone is a serious threat. Both the size of the problem and the options to address it make life much more difficult for policymakers than was the case in the late 1930s after the collapse of the gold standard. For some countries, a ‘subservient’ central bank might be preferable to the ECB.
The 1930s deservedly have a bad name. It is hard to imagine that a decade that included the Great Depression and a major de-globalisation of the world economy, and culminated in WWII could be other than notorious. And yet, compared with struggling Eurozone economies today, the economic situation in Europe in the later 1930s was in many ways more promising. This is particularly true of the aftermath of public debt and the difficulty of dealing with it.
Having promised to do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure the survival of the euro, the ECB now faces the problem of record high unemployment combined with a strong currency. There is accumulating evidence that the ECB is more willing to fight currency appreciation than the Bundesbank would have been. Capital inflows have been a key source of recent upward pressure on the euro. Should this continue, the ECB may need to intervene more aggressively in order to promote economic recovery in the Eurozone.
Last year, the ECB entered an existential battle for the euro. By promising to do ‘whatever it takes’ to safeguard the euro, the ECB managed to calm sovereign debt markets and engineer a much-needed easing of overall credit conditions in the Eurozone.
Much has happened since VoxEU published an eBook on the banking union in Europe one year ago. In this column, the editor of the eBook reviews the developments and plans of the past year. Many of the issues flagged by eBook contributors are still relevant and have not yet been addressed. While immediate pressures seemed to have receded, the crisis is still very much with us and is still awaiting resolution.
In a few days, pending some last-minute diplomatic conflict between the UK and the European Commission, the ECB will begin an asset-quality review of European banks. This is supposed to be the entry point to the supervisory role of the ECB in the context of the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), the first of three pillars of the planned banking union. Little political progress has been made on the other two pillars, bank resolution and deposit insurance, in spite of proposals by the EU Commission.
The publication of attributed voting records and minutes of the ECB council’s meetings would increase the influence of national governments and discourage pro-Eurozone behaviour. This column argues that this would be undesirable. Publishing non-attributed summary minutes, however, would enhance the ECB’s accountability towards the public.
Mario Draghi has voiced his support for the quick release of minutes and has confirmed that the ECB is to take a decision on this issue in the near future (Reuters 2013). Joerg Asmussen, a member of the ECB's Executive Board, recently proposed that the ECB should publish the minutes of the ECB council meetings immediately and demanded that the members’ individual positions be revealed (Bloomberg 2013). There is no doubt that the current tendency towards more transparency in monetary policy1 enhances central banks' accountability towards the public.
Redesigning the ECB with regional rather than national central banks
Michael Burda15 July 2013
Eurozone national central banks that take a national perspective risk politicising the ECB’s monetary policy. This column argues that this is a significant risk that should be overcome with a fundamental overhaul of the Eurosystem. A central element would be to take the ‘national’ out of the EZ’s national central banks. Just as US regional Fed banks encompass more than one US state, EZ ‘national’ central banks area of responsibility should be redrawn along economic geography lines rather than nation lines. An example of such a proposal is provided.
The monetary union was always a grand gamble. It established the ECB for an immense region that itself was not a state -- a trans-European institution with governmental duties that does not represent any government in particular.
Misplaced concerns about central-bank independence
Marco Annunziata12 February 2013
Economists and policymakers are increasingly concerned that central-bank independence is being threatened. This column argues that central banks are not losing their independence, but that their room for manoeuvre is being eroded by a lack of structural reforms and fiscal adjustment. The financial crisis has caused mission creep, pushing central banks well beyond their comfort zones and as the time comes to pull back, independent monetary policy could still be powerless against fiscal dominance.
Concerns are rising that central-bank independence is at risk, already curtailed by governments eager to control all other levers of growth. The Japanese government’s none-too-subtle strong-arming of the Bank of Japan is one of the most blatant examples (e.g. King 2013).
But the current debate on the risks to central-bank independence misses the point.