News Column

Draghi Under Mounting Pressure Over Euro Debt Crisis Plans

Aug. 31, 2012

Andrew McCathie, dpa

euro coin

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi is facing mounting pressure as he attempts to drive forward a new controversial plan to help resolve the long-running eurozone crisis.

In addition to reports that the head of Germany's powerful central bank, the Bundesbank, threatened to resign over the moves being drawn up by Draghi, data released Friday showed a sharp pickup in inflation and a rise in unemployment to a record eurozone high.

This comes as part of the buildup to Thursday's meeting of the ECB's 23-member governing council, which is expected to consider Draghi's plans to reactivate its government bond-buying programme.

The move forms part of efforts to drive down the borrowing costs for nations at the centre of the long-running debt crisis, such as Italy and Spain.

The ECB meeting also came as European leaders press on with a round of shuttle diplomacy ahead of a series of key decisions in the battle to haul the eurozone back from the brink.

Underscoring the importance of the current deliberations at the ECB, Draghi said he was cancelling his trip to the United States for this weekend's key meeting of world central bankers at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Under Draghi, who became ECB president in November, the bank has taken to a series of bold decisions to help shore up investor confidence in the eurozone, including delivering three interest rate cuts and rolling out more than 1 trillion euros (1.25 trillion dollars) in cheap loans.

Relaunching the bond-purchasing programme has already won broad support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as other European leaders.

But securing a consensus within the ECB to relaunch the government bond-buying programme could well prove to be the biggest challenge facing Draghi, who turns 65 on Monday.

Underscoring the power struggle underway in the Frankfurt-based central bank, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann considered resigning in recent weeks, according to a report in Germany's daily Bild.

A spokeswoman for the Bundesbank, which is the most powerful national central bank in the 17-member eurozone, declined to comment on the Bild report.

The 44-year-old Weidmann has spearheaded criticism of the plans, which Draghi outlined at a press conference earlier this month. As Bundesbank chief, Weidmann is also a member of the ECB's governing council.

At the heart of the Draghi plan, the ECB would only consider buying the bonds of cash-strapped countries if they agree to strict conditions set by the eurozone bailout fund.

But the hard money Bundesbank hawks are opposed to monetary policy instruments being used to help clean up the state finances of member states. They see this as a threat to the ECB's independence.

In an interview last weekend, Weidmann was more blunt, saying the ECB's move could become "addictive" for heavily indebted eurozone states.

However, in an article published in the German weekly Die Zeit on Thursday, Draghi hit back at his critics, saying the ECB would always act with the limits of its mandate.

"Yet it should be understood that fulfilling our mandate sometimes requires us to go beyond standard monetary policy tools," he wrote.

But - less than a week before the ECB meeting - it remains unclear

what Draghi will announce at his press conference following the governing council meeting.

Already there have been reports that the ECB might be forced to put the announcement on hold until after a September 12 ruling by Germany's top court on constitutional challenges to key parts of Europe's crisis-management strategy. This includes the new permanent euro bailout fund, the European Stability Fund.

"Mario Draghi is likely to hold back at the press conference with details of the bond plans in advance of the decision by the Federal Constitutional Court," said Ulf Krauss, economist with Germany's Helaba bank.

He went on to say that "dexterity will also be required in the face of growing German criticism of the monetary policy course."

Adding to the challenges facing Draghi was the release of figures Friday showing unemployment climbing to 11.3 per cent in July and annual inflation increasing to 2.6 per cent in August.

The rise in inflation is likely to reduce the ECB's room to manoeuvre on delivering a further cut in interest rates in a bid to to spur economic growth.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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