European Monetary System and European Currency
Based on selected papers kindly provided by the European Central Bank
Compiled by Dm. Evstafiev
for the students of the School of Political Science
at St. Petersburg State University
Developments in the Financial Sector in Europe
following the Introduction of the Euro
Speech by Dr. Willem F. Duisenberg,
President of the European Central Bank,
to be delivered at the Third European Financial Markets Convention
Milan, 3 June 1999
The period of the five months following the introduction of the euro has been very rich in new events, with significant developments taking place both in the continental securities markets and in the financial system as a whole. Although experience has been gathered over a relatively short period of time, I am tempted to make two observations of a fundamental nature.
The first observation is that developments following the introduction of the euro do not imply that the euro area is set to become a financial fortress whose financial markets and institutions would be cut off from the rest of the world. In fact, market participants residing outside the euro area seem to be taking a keen interest in the financial markets of the euro area. "Core Europe", so to speak, has become more interesting to outsiders as the breadth and liquidity of its financial markets has increased.
The second observation is that the euro can be expected to have a significant influence on the structure of the financial system by bringing about more securitisation. A traditional feature of the financial system of continental Europe has been a marked dependency on the funds intermediated by banks. This feature contrasts with the financial system of the United States which is much more securitised. For instance, corporate bonds have not been very widely issued in the euro area, and stock market capitalisation - relative to the size of the economy - is much lower in the euro area than in the United States. There are good reasons to believe that a process of securitisation will gather pace in the euro area now that the single currency is in use. This view seems to be shared by many observers and I shall, in the course of my remarks, provide some arguments in its favour.
In my remarks today, I should like to discuss the structural changes in the financial sector, in particular those that have occurred as a result of the launch of new product types and the changing nature of public and private institutions. I shall address developments in the money markets, the bond markets and the equity markets as well as the process of adaptation of banking institutions to their new environment.
2. Money markets
The money markets of the euro area became rapidly integrated after the introduction of the euro despite the fact that their structures had previously been quite different at the national level. Transaction volumes and measures of bid-ask spreads on the various money market instruments both indicate that the markets reached a very high level of liquidity very rapidly in the course of January 1999 and have subsequently retained it.
The high degree of integration of the euro area money markets is, first of all, a result of the single monetary policy, which is conducted through the harmonised operational framework of the Eurosystem. This integration has also been made possible by the significant and increasing integration of payment systems. Cross-border payments processed by TARGET accounted for more than 37% of the value of all real-time payments (domestic and cross-border) effected by credit institutions in March and April 1999. Moreover, the continuously high use which our counterparties make of the correspondent central banking model (or CCBM) for the cross-border transfer of collateral in monetary policy operations is an important indication of area-wide integration. This is evidenced by the fact that cross-border collateral currently represents around 25% of the total amount of collateral in custody in the context of the Eurosystem's monetary policy operations.
Taking a closer look at the various instruments traded in the money markets, a feature that is worthy of note is that market participants in the 11 countries of the euro area have shown an increasing tendency to demonstrate a similar reliance on each instrument type. For example, what we call "overnight indexed swaps", which are swaps indexed on the overnight reference interest rate EONIA, have become an important derivative instrument in the money markets of the euro area. This can be seen from the low level of quoted bid-ask spreads and the high turnover relative to other major international markets. Both indicators show a high level of liquidity in this instrument. Another type of instrument of interest in the money market (but also at the fringe of the bond market) is that of the repurchase agreement. The development of more integrated repo markets in the euro area will obviously accompany the development of area-wide securities trading, settlement and custody systems. This will reduce transaction costs and improve efficiency for the cross-border transfer of securities through repurchase operations.
Looking ahead, other developments in the money markets are expected in the coming months. There are aims to establish new area-wide standards for the repo markets, with a view to overcoming the separation between different models in the national markets. These new standards could obviously co-exist with other standards and broader conventions for international transactions. In fact, over the last few months the European Central Bank (ECB) has been examining whether this co-existence could affect the integration of money markets. We have come to the conclusion that, in particular owing to the efforts of the sponsors of the different standards, this should not be considered a threat.
Finally, it should also be noted that national and international central securities depositories are currently developing links with one another, which will enable participants in one country to make direct use of securities deposited in other countries. Twenty-six of these links (concerning mainly Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland) may be used by the Eurosystem.
3. Bond markets
I should now like to turn to bond markets and first to comment on the position of euro area bond markets in the global market. Some data sources on international securities issuance available so far show a pattern of increased reliance on euro-denominated bonds at the beginning of 1999, in particular as opposed to US dollar-denominated bonds. While it remains difficult to draw firm conclusions on the determinants of bond denomination choices without considering information on the nature of bond holdings and trading patterns, recent bond issuance volumes indicate that the euro has the potential to become an important currency for international bond issuance.
The importance of the euro area bond market is also apparent in measures of secondary market activity, i.e. turnover or trading volumes. In particular, trading volumes on exchange-traded bond futures are indicative of the overall degree of market activity. Volumes traded in euro-denominated bond futures were low shortly before the changeover to the euro, when the bond markets in the euro area were exceptionally quiet. Since then, volumes have increased markedly and they currently stand at consistently high levels, which indicates a continuously high degree of turnover in euro-denominated bond markets in general.
Turning to the internal structure of the bond markets of the euro area, I should like to make an initial observation related to the recent marked increase in euro-denominated corporate bond issuance, which was accompanied by an increase in the average size of issues. This tendency is likely to continue in the future, in particular to the extent that bonds may be used by firms to finance increasing mergers and acquisitions activity in the euro area. The underlying reasons for increased bond issuance by euro area firms are clear, both on the supply and on the demand side. On the supply side, large firms with good credit ratings will find opportunities in the increased depth and liquidity of the euro area bond market. On the demand side, the respect by governments of the parameters of the Stability and Growth Pact over the medium term should leave more room for the private sector to issue debt securities. In addition, the euro area must be in a position to save in order to be able to take care of its future pension payments, and a part of these savings is likely to be invested in corporate debt securities. An increase in global demand for euro-denominated debt securities is also expected as the euro becomes a major reserve currency. Moreover, the demand for higher risk euro-denominated debt securities is likely to increase, particularly as the current low level of sovereign yields increases incentives to search for higher yields.
With regard to the government bond markets, an issue of importance for the euro area that I should like to stress is the fact that governments now find themselves in a rather new position as issuers. This reflects a number of developments, two of which I should particularly like to mention. First, the major public issuers have attempted to position themselves as providers of benchmarks for euro-denominated bond markets. Second, certain issues of government bonds have effectively gained larger portions of secondary markets, in particular in relation to developments that have occurred on bond futures markets.
Market participants have responded to these developments in the bond markets with a range of concurring or competing initiatives and alliances. In the derivatives industry, market participants have established new alliances. On the trading side, electronic cross-border platforms for bonds have been created or are in the process of being developed. On the clearing side, integrated platforms for different markets have been launched or are being finalised, while, finally, on the securities settlement side, initiatives have also been launched. It is important to note that while some of these developments are internal to the euro area, others aim at creating links with financial markets outside the euro area. One may reasonably expect that all of these new circuits, as well as others, may in the future be enlarged to encompass a growing number of market participants.
4. Equity markets
Turning to equity markets, structural developments of most interest relate to the infrastructure of stock exchanges on the one hand and equity derivative exchanges on the other. First, within the euro area, equity investment and trading activities appear to be less and less influenced by country-specific factors and increasingly subject to area-wide considerations. Consistent with this development, area-wide equity indices have been developing. Market participants are showing considerable interest in these area-wide indices, in particular as they are also now adopting investment positions on area-wide industrial sectors, using the sub-indices made available for that purpose. An indication of the degree of interest raised by area-wide indices is the relatively fierce competition for benchmark status that has developed between the various proponents of area-wide indices.
Second, market developments in relation to stock index futures and options will reflect the rise of area-wide indices. This may in turn lead to either consolidation or product specialisation of equity derivative exchanges. For my part, I consider the development of fair competition between exchanges to be a positive factor in terms of the improvement of the range of products and services available to the financial industry.
Third, in the equity market the euro has also provided a powerful incentive for the creation of new - and possibly competing - alliances among exchanges. Before the launch of the single currency, circuits had been created for the launch of integrated "new markets" within and beyond the euro area, encompassing the shares of small and medium-sized companies with a high potential for growth. The development in the integration of exchanges has also continued more recently, and, as you know, it has not been limited to the euro area.
In the field of banking, the securitisation trend appears to demand strategic and organisational adjustment on the part of banks. The relative importance of the more traditional types of banking activity can be seen to be decreasing, even though it should be mentioned that traditional banking activities have nonetheless continued to grow at a rate exceeding that of growth of nominal GDP. In the euro area, growth in recent years has been much more rapid in assets under the management of mutual funds and other institutional investors than in the assets of banks. This reflects a tendency towards decreasing the relative weight of bank deposits compared with securities in financial wealth.
The euro area banking industry has reacted to this development already by diversifying into the asset management area. Banking groups have been able to "internalise" a significant part of the securitisation tendency as they control a large majority of the mutual funds. As a result of the securitisation trend, there has been an increase in the share of security holdings among bank assets, and an increase in the share of capital gains - although those are quite cyclically sensitive - as well as in fee income stemming from asset management services. Meanwhile, the relative importance of interest income has declined correspondingly. At the bank level, dividend income from equity participations has generally become much more important, indicating an increase in the importance of the profit generated by non-bank subsidiaries.
Beside the establishment of non-bank subsidiaries, there have been other strategic and organisational changes that have resulted in banks strengthening their securities-related activities. In particular, significant motives behind the recent merger trend seem to include the desire to increase bank size and hence to be able to operate efficiently in wholesale securities markets as well as to be able to cater for the needs of large international corporations for investment banking services.
The trend towards securitisation can be regarded as one of the reasons for the structural changes in the banking system that appears to have accelerated recently. There have naturally also been other reasons why banks have sought to merge, predominantly the need to cut capacity and to reduce costs. These cost-driven mergers have taken place primarily among smaller banks.
In my remarks today, I have referred to a number of changes and market initiatives in the euro area financial landscape. These developments point to the increasing importance of the fixed income and equity markets that many expected in Stage Three of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), providing new opportunities for borrowers and investors and causing pressure to adjust for financial institutions. In this respect, I should like to mention the importance of removing the remaining regulatory barriers to the further development of the securities markets. To this end, the European Commission has recently published an Action Plan of regulatory changes to improve the single market for financial services that would certainly - when implemented - boost the integration and market-driven development of the European securities markets.
Finally, I should like to conclude with some remarks about the role of the Eurosystem (the term that we use to mean the ECB and the 11 national central banks of the Member States participating in Stage Three of EMU) in the developments in the financial sector in Europe. First of all, the Eurosystem contributes to developments in the financial sector by providing it with a stable and credible monetary policy. With a strong and credible commitment to its primary objective, price stability, the Eurosystem has created a situation in which the financial sector can concentrate on those issues that are of the greatest relevance to its activities.
The Eurosystem does not play a direct role in structural developments in the financial sector. With its single monetary policy framework and TARGET in particular, the Eurosystem has created an infrastructure that has proved to be useful for the establishment of an integrated money market in the euro area.
In addition, the Eurosystem carefully monitors structural developments in the financial sector to the extent that they might have an impact on the conduct of monetary policy. To make a final point, in observing developments in the financial sector, the Eurosystem constantly takes account of the fact that one of its tasks, laid down in the Treaty establishing the European Community, is to "contribute to the smooth conduct of policies pursued by the competent authorities relating to (…) the stability of the financial system" [(Article 105 (5))]. Analysis of the common developments in the European financial system represents such a contribution.
Economic and Monetary Union in Europe - the challenges ahead
Speech by Professor Dr. L.H. Hoogduin,
on behalf of Dr. Willem F. Duisenberg,
President of the European Central Bank,
at the symposium sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City
on "New challenges for monetary policy"
on 27 August 1999 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
From the European perspective, the title of this year's Jackson Hole symposium - "new challenges for monetary policy" - is particularly appropriate. Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in Europe is a unique project and its consummation with the introduction of the single monetary policy on 1 January 1999 took place less than eight months ago. Today, given the time available, I will not endeavour to review all the challenges which are raised by EMU comprehensively. I shall have to be selective, largely focusing on the primary objective of the Eurosystem, which is to maintain price stability in the euro area. In this context, let me briefly explain our terminology, which may perhaps not be known to everybody as yet. The "Eurosystem" is the name we gave to the European Central Bank (ECB) and the currently eleven national central banks of those countries which have introduced the euro. The "euro area" comprises these eleven countries.
I should like to start with some observations on the objective and limitations of monetary policy in the euro area. Owing to the successful process of disinflation and convergence within Europe over the past decade, the launch of the euro last January took place in an environment of price stability that few observers would have predicted only a few years ago. Consumers and firms are already reaping the benefits of this environment. The relative price signals on which the efficiency of the market mechanism relies are not obscured by volatility in the general level of prices. By avoiding the costs and distortions inflation would impose on the economy, price stability is contributing to the growth and employment potential of the euro area.
This contribution is substantial. Unfortunately, it is all too easily taken for granted. Memories of the still recent past relating to the consequences of high and unstable inflation tend to fade rapidly. We are sometimes already hearing the argument that, given that price stability has been achieved, monetary policy should now be re-oriented away from its primary objective of price stability towards other goals. One of the challenges facing the Eurosystem is to maintain the support of the broad public constituency necessary to resist these calls, which - as I hardly need to point out to such a distinguished audience of central bankers and monetary economists - are misguided and ultimately counter-productive. However, it can be said that the situation is the same as that in the world of sports; winning a championship and reaching the top is difficult, but staying there is even harder.
The institutional framework for European monetary policy, as created by the Maastricht Treaty (i.e. the Treaty on European Union, which has become part of the Treaty establishing the European Community, or the EC Treaty, in short) is well suited to meeting this challenge. Most importantly, the single monetary policy has been clearly assigned the primary objective of maintaining price stability in the euro area. To facilitate the achievement of this goal, the ECB and the national central banks have been accorded a high degree of institutional independence so as to protect monetary policy decisions from undue external interference.
The Treaty imposes several duties and tasks on the ECB. However, there is no doubt that the objective of price stability is over-riding. For example, the Treaty stipulates - if I may quote - that the Eurosystem "without prejudice to the objective of price stability, … shall support the general economic policies in the Community, with a view to contributing to the achievement of the objectives of the Community", which include "sustainable and non-inflationary growth" and "a high level of employment".
Given the clear priority attached to the primary objective of price stability, how does the ECB address these other Treaty obligations? Let me make three points in this regard.
First, among economists and central bankers, there is overwhelming agreement that there is no long-run trade-off between real activity and inflation. Attempting to use monetary policy to raise real economic activity above its sustainable level will, in the end, simply lead to ever higher inflation, but not to faster economic growth. I am convinced that the best contribution monetary policy can make to sustainable growth and employment in the euro area is to maintain price stability in a credible and lasting manner, allowing the considerable benefits of price stability to be reaped over the medium term. This is the economic rationale underlying the EC Treaty and the Eurosystem's monetary policy strategy.
Second, it is generally acknowledged that monetary policy does affect real activity in the short run. Although the focus must always be on price stability, in many cases the policy action required to maintain price stability will also help sustain short-run economic and employment prospects. The reduction of the Eurosystem's main refinancing rate on 8 April was a case in point. Following the Asian and Russian financial crises last year, global demand weakened. Weaker external demand led to a shift in the balance of risks to price stability in the euro area towards the downside, as demand pressures abated. As monetary indicators did not signal inflationary risks at that time, the Governing Council of the ECB concluded that a cut of 50 basis points in the main refinancing rate best served the maintenance of price stability. This lower level of interest rates may also be supportive of real activity and employment in the short-run. Our eyes must always be firmly focused on the goal, on our goal, to maintain price stability in the medium term. Our monetary policy does not explicitly aim at influencing the business cycle. However, as said in many cases, the necessary monetary policy measures to achieve our goal also tend, almost automatically, to work in the right direction from a cyclical point of view.
This leads me to my third point. In situations where monetary policy might face a short-term trade-off between adverse developments in real activity and deviations from price stability, the over-riding priority accorded to countering the latter must be made absolutely clear. Any ambiguity on this point will simply endanger the credibility, and therefore the effectiveness, of the monetary policy response. This does not mean that the policy action must be draconian. The medium-term orientation of the Eurosystem's monetary policy strategy permits a gradualist and measured response to previously unforeseen threats to price stability, should this be regarded as appropriate, depending on the nature of the threat. Such gradualism may help to avoid the introduction of unnecessary uncertainty into the real economy.
Recognition and an understanding of these three central points are essential for the implementation of a successful monetary policy. Communicating both the objective and the limitations of monetary policy to the public is a vital issue to which I will return later in my remarks. But it would be remiss at this point if I did not address what is surely the greatest economic challenge facing the euro area at present, namely the unacceptably high level of unemployment. There is a broad consensus that unemployment in the euro area is overwhelmingly structural in nature. Monetary policy cannot solve this problem. National governments bear the main responsibility for structural economic reforms. In particular, further reforms of the tax and welfare systems are required in many EU countries in order to increase the incentives to create new jobs and to accept them. Wage moderation can also have a significant beneficial impact. Monetary policy makes its best supportive contribution by providing the environment of price stability in which structural reforms can work most effectively.
It should be recognised that the implementation of EMU has made it even more urgent to improve the flexibility of labour and goods markets. In this context, it would very likely be the wrong answer if governments were to try to create a "social union", harmonising social security systems and standards at a very high level. The ECB will continue to cajole governments into implementing necessary and long overdue reforms, but the final hard decisions - and I acknowledge that they are hard decisions, since the considerable benefits of structural reform often only become apparent with time - lie with the national authorities. In those countries where appropriate structural reforms have been implemented and wage growth has been moderate, unemployment is either low by euro area standards or is falling more rapidly. These experiences offer important lessons for other countries in the euro area. Fortunately, a broader awareness of the necessity of structural reforms recently seems to be emerging in Europe. Of course, ultimately only sustained action will count. The cyclical recovery that is underway is no substitute for such action.
Thus far, I have largely discussed the goal of the single monetary policy. How is this goal to be achieved? At the heart of the answer to this question is the Eurosystem's monetary policy strategy. The strategy has two closely related aspects. First, the strategy must structure the monetary policy-making process in such a way that the Governing Council of the ECB is presented with the information and analysis required to take appropriate monetary policy decisions. Second, the strategy must ensure that policy decisions, including the economic rationale on which they are based, can be presented in a clear and coherent way to the public. The communication policy as part of the strategy obviously has to be consistent with the structure of the internal decision-making process.
In designing the Eurosystem's strategy, the Governing Council of the ECB recognised the new circumstances faced by monetary policy in the euro area. Where there were previously eleven open, generally small economies, there is now one large, relatively closed single currency area. The challenges implied by this transformation in the landscape of monetary policy are profound.
Relatively little is known as yet about the transmission mechanism of monetary policy in the euro area after the transition to Monetary Union. One important challenge for the Eurosystem is to obtain a better knowledge of the structure and functioning of the euro area economy and the transmission mechanism of monetary policy within it, so that policy actions can be implemented accordingly. Together with experts in the national central banks, the ECB has embarked on an intensive programme of analysis and research into these issues.
One obvious problem related to the fact that the euro area did not exist as a single currency area in the past regards the availability of statistical data. Compared with national central banks, we do not have the same amount of long historical time series of monetary and economic indicators, based on harmonised statistical concepts, at our disposal. However, we have already developed quite reliable estimates for a number of these historical series, and the quality and availability of current statistics on the euro area has increased significantly over the last few quarters, for example in the areas of money and banking and balance of payments statistics, but also across a wide range of economic statistics. This process of improving the quality and the availability of statistical data covering the euro area will continue.
It would have clearly been unwise for the ECB to develop a strategy which relies mechanically on the signals offered by a single indicator or forecast in order to take monetary policy decisions. Indeed, such a simplistic approach to monetary policy-making is unwise in all circumstances. Our knowledge of the structure of the euro area economy and the indicator properties of specific variables - although improving rapidly - is simply too limited.
The primary objective of monetary policy has been quantified with the publication of a definition of price stability, against which the Eurosystem can be held accountable. This definition illustrates our aversion to both inflation and deflation, since it defines price stability as annual increases of below 2% in the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for the euro area. To maintain price stability according to this definition, monetary developments are closely monitored against a quantitative reference value for the broad benchmark aggregate, M3. In parallel, a broadly based assessment of the outlook for price developments in the euro area is undertaken. This assessment encompasses a wide range of indicator variables, including inflation projections produced both inside and outside the Eurosystem. Using all this information, the Governing Council comes to a decision on the level of short-term interest rates that best serves the maintenance of price stability over the medium term.
On the basis of this strategy, I am confident that the Governing Council has taken - and will continue to take - appropriate monetary policy decisions. The effectiveness of these policy decisions will depend, in large part, on the credibility of the single monetary policy. Transparent and accountable policy-making can help to build up a reputation and, hence credibility. Transparency and accountability, in turn, rely on clear and effective communications between the Eurosystem and the public.
In this regard, the Eurosystem faces an especially formidable task. As mentioned earlier, the euro area currently consists of eleven different sovereign nations, each with its own distinct monetary history and heritage. With each policy announcement or Monthly Bulletin, the Eurosystem must thus communicate with the public of eleven different countries and must speak in all eleven different official languages of the European Union. Such a situation is unprecedented. This diversity of language, history and culture across the euro area raises further challenges for the ECB.
Over the years, each national central bank had developed its own strategy and, linked to this, its own "monetary policy language" for communicating with the public in the nation it served. This language reflected the unique circumstances of the country in question. The process by which the public learnt this monetary language from the statements and behaviour of the national central bank was largely subconscious. Over time, the strategies and the related language and conventions of monetary policy came to be so well understood as to be almost second nature. In these circumstances, private economic behaviour was shaped by the monetary policy environment.
Many of us have experienced the problem of trying to learn a second language in adult life. This rarely comes as easily as learning your native tongue as a child. It is certainly not a subconscious process, but rather one that requires effort and perseverance. It is often difficult to overcome the habits and conventions of one's first language, which are inevitably somewhat at odds with those of a foreign tongue. Of course, it is easier to learn a language that shares common roots with one's own. Nevertheless, to obtain any degree of fluency, there is no alternative to long hours practising pronunciation, studying grammar and learning vocabulary. Even then, the idioms and slang of the new language are sometimes hard to follow. There are no easy short cuts.
With the adoption of the euro last January, the public, financial markets and policy-makers in the euro area have all had to get used to a new monetary policy environment and have, thus, had to learn a new "monetary policy language". The Eurosystem's monetary policy strategy has been designed, in part, to make this learning process as straightforward as possible. Continuity with the successful strategies of the national central banks prior to Monetary Union was one of the guiding principles governing the selection of the monetary policy strategy. Nevertheless, given the changed environment for monetary policy, a new strategy with a new vocabulary had to be developed, reflecting the unique and novel circumstances facing the Eurosystem.
Some commentators have suggested that the Eurosystem simply adopt the strategy used by another central bank or by a national central bank in the past. Tellingly, such observers often suggest the strategy they know best: Americans suggest using the Federal Reserve as a model; Britons, the Bank of England; Germans, the Bundesbank. However, the Eurosystem cannot simply adopt a strategy designed by another central bank for a different currency area under different economic circumstances. A strategy that might have been suitable in one situation may be quite inappropriate for the unique and novel circumstances facing the Eurosystem, given the very different economic structure and environment confronting it.
A key feature of the ECB's communication policy is the monthly press conference given by the ECB's Vice-President and myself, usually immediately following the first Governing Council meeting of each month. During these press conferences, I make an introductory statement summarising the Council's discussions and conclusions before answering questions from journalists. As the statement is agreed, in substance, with all the Council members beforehand it is similar to what others call minutes. The press conference provides prompt information in an even-handed way, and it offers the opportunity for immediate two-way communication. As far as I am aware, no other central bank communicates with the public in such a prompt manner immediately after its monetary policy meetings.
These press conferences are a tangible expression of the Eurosystem's commitment to be open, transparent and accountable in its conduct of monetary policy. In my view, our commitment to openness should not be in doubt. However, ensuring that this openness translates into effective communications continues to be a challenge. Journalists, financial markets and the public are still learning the new strategy and language of monetary policy in the euro area.
By its nature, the challenge of improving communications between the Eurosystem and the public is two-sided. On the one hand, the ECB must use a clear and transparent language consistent with the strategy it has adopted. It must help the public understand the changes of emphasis and communication necessitated by the new monetary policy environment in Europe. We have made important progress in this regard over the last eight months, but I acknowledge that we still have some way to go. The ECB must do its utmost to be understood by its counterparts in the media that act as important intermediaries to the public at large. By learning from one another, we can improve the transparency, democratic accountability and effectiveness of the single monetary policy.
Before concluding, I should like to add a brief comment on the likely future enlargement of the European Union (EU) and, prospectively, the euro area. Currently, the EU negotiates the accession of six countries to the EU. Once the accession of new Member States is decided, these countries have to fulfil the so-called convergence criteria, if they want to join the euro area. The euro area can finally only be enlarged if the European Council, following an assessment by the ECB and the European Commission, decides that further Member States of the EU are ready to adopt the single currency. New countries joining the euro area will be a challenge for us. For example, we will have to integrate the respective economy fully in our area-wide analysis of monetary, financial and other economic developments in the euro area. Enlargement is a challenge we clearly welcome. I have no doubts that we can master it, not least as the EC Treaty outlines a clear and transparent procedure for countries wishing to join the euro area. In simple terms, this can be viewed as involving three phases. First, a candidate country must join the European Union, for which certain requirements must be met. Second, the candidate is expected to join the new exchange rate mechanism, ERM II. Third, as mentioned earlier, the country must fulfil the convergence criteria. In addition to fiscal discipline and inflation control, these criteria include a relatively low level of long-term interest rates and stable exchange rates.
Let me conclude. Monetary policy cannot solve all of the economic challenges facing the euro area, in particular those concerning the urgent need to reduce the high level of structural unemployment. National governments are responsible for carrying out the required structural reforms. The Eurosystem makes its best contribution to area-wide growth and employment prospects by credibly focusing on the maintenance of price stability in the euro area.
I am confident that the monetary policy strategy adopted by the Governing Council of the ECB last October has been successful - and the monetary policy decisions that have been based on it over the last eight months - serve the fulfilment of this objective. Nevertheless, we will not become complacent; on the contrary, we will have to continue to invest substantially in analysing the structure of the euro area economy, and in understanding the monetary policy transmission mechanism and the information content of the various monetary and economic indicators.
Monetary policy is most effective when it is credible. Transparent and accountable policy-making can help to build up a reputation and credibility. Effective direct communications with the public, including the financial markets, other policy makers and the media requires that we speak with one voice in an even-handed way with our diverse counterparties and audience. Successfully refining our area-wide communications, aimed at making our strategy, and the monetary policy based on it, transparent so that it can be well understood by the large and varied population we serve, is one of the challenges faced by the Eurosystem and, by implication, one of our priorities.
EMU AND BANKING SUPERVISION
Lecture by Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa
Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank
at the London School of Economics, Financial Markets Group
on 24 February 1999
TABLE OF CONTENTS
II. Institutional framework
III. Industry scenario
IV. Current supervision
V. Crisis management
1. I am speaking here, at the London School of Economics, only a few weeks after one of the most remarkable events in the history of monetary systems: the establishment of a single currency and a single central banking competence for a group of countries which retain their sovereignty in many of the key fields where the State exerts its power. To mint or print the currency, to manage it and to provide the ultimate foundation of the public's confidence in it has been, from the earliest times, a key prerogative of the sovereign. "Sovereign" is indeed the name that was given in the past to one currency. And a British Prime Minister not so long ago explained her opposition to the idea of the single currency with the desire to preserve the image of the Queen on the banknotes.
2. For centuries money has had two anchors: a commodity, usually gold; and the sovereign, i.e. the political power. Less than 30 years after the last bond to gold was severed (August 1971), the second anchor has also now been abandoned. Although I personally think that political union in Europe is desirable, I am aware that the present situation, in which the area of the single currency is not a politically united one, is likely to persist for a number of years. This means that we have given rise to an entirely new type of monetary order. For the people, the success of this move will ultimately depend on the ability of governments and political forces to build a political union. For the central banker and for the users of the new currency, the success will be measured by the quality of the currency itself, and such quality will be measured in the first place in terms of price stability. This is not only a requirement explicitly set by the Treaty of Maastricht, it is also, in the opinion of most, the "new anchor" that purely fiduciary currencies need after the gold anchor is abandoned.
3. My remarks, however, will focus on another, less fundamental but still important novelty of the monetary constitution that has just come into existence. It is the novelty of the abandonment of the coincidence between the area of jurisdiction of monetary policy and the area of jurisdiction of banking supervision. The former embraces the 11 countries that have adopted the euro, while the latter remains national. Just as we have no precedent of any comparable size of money disconnected from states, we have no precedent for a lack of coincidence between the two public functions of managing the currency and controlling the banks.
In the run-up to the euro this feature of the system was explored, and some expressed doubts about its effectiveness. I will tonight examine the problems of banking supervision in the euro area. The plan of my remarks is the following. I will first review the existing institutional framework for the prudential control of banks in EMU. I will then examine the likely scenario for the European banking industry in the coming years. Against this institutional and industry background, I shall then discuss the functioning of, and the challenges for, banking supervision and central banking in the euro area, both in normal circumstances and when a crisis occurs.
II. INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK
4. The origin and developments of modern central banks are closely linked to key changes undergone by monetary systems over the past two centuries. Such changes could, very sketchily, be summarised as follows. First, paper currency established itself as a more convenient means of payment than commodity currencies. Second, commercial bank money (bank deposits) spread as a convenient substitute for banknotes and coins. Third, the quantity of money was disconnected from the quantity of gold. Thus, a double revolution in the technology of the payment system, the advent of banknotes and that of cheques or giros, has shaped the functions that most central banks performed over this century: monetary policy and prudential supervision. Man-made money made monetary policy possible. The fact that a large, now a predominant, component of the money stock was in the form of commercial bank money made banking supervision necessary.
Ensuring confidence in the paper currency and, later, in the stability of the relationship, one could say the exchange rate, between central bank and commercial bank money, were twin public functions, and, in general, they were entrusted to the same institution. Just as money has three well-known economic functions - means of payment, unit of account and store of value - so there are three public functions related to each of them. Operating and supervising the payment system refers to money as a means of payment; ensuring price stability relates to money as a unit of account and a store of value; and pursuing the stability of banks relates to money as a means of payment and a store of value. In each of the three functions commercial banks have played, and still largely play, a crucial role.
In an increasing number of countries the original triadic task entrusted to the central bank has now been abandoned in favour of a "separation approach", according to which banking supervision has been assigned to a separate institution. Following the recent adoption by the United Kingdom and Luxembourg of the separation approach, only two of the 12 countries represented in the Basle Committee on Banking Supervision (Italy and the Netherlands) have the central bank as the only authority responsible for banking supervision. In all systems, however, whether or not it has the task of supervising the banks, the central bank is deeply involved with the banking system precisely because the banks are primary creators of money, providers of payment services, managers of the stock of savings and counterparties of central bank operations. No central bank can ignore the need to have a concrete and direct knowledge of "its" banking system, i.e. the banking system that operates in the area of its monetary jurisdiction.
Personally, I have an intellectual attachment to, as well as a professional inclination for, the central bank approach to banking supervision, due partly to the fact that I spent most of my professional life in a central bank which is also to this day the banking supervisor. Yet I can see, I think, the arguments that have led a growing number of industrialised countries to prefer the separation approach. Such arguments basically point to the potential conflict between controlling money creation for the purpose of price stability and for the purpose of bank stability. On the whole, I do not think that one model is right and the other wrong. Both can function, and do function, effectively; if inappropriately managed, both may fail to satisfy the public interest for which banks are supervised.
5. Against this background, let me now describe the institutional framework currently adopted by the Treaty. As my description will refer to the area in which both the single market and the single currency are established, it will not specially focus on the problems of the so-called "pre-in" countries, including the United Kingdom.
The current institutional framework of EMU (i.e. the single market plus the single currency) is a construct composed of two building blocks: national competence and co-operation. Let me first briefly review the main aspects of these two building blocks and then see how the Eurosystem relates to them.
First, national competence. In a market based on the minimum harmonisation and the mutual recognition of national regulatory standards and practices, the principle of "home country control" applies. According to this principle every bank has the right to do business in the whole area using a single licence, under the supervision, and following the rules, of the authority that has issued the licence. The full supervisory responsibility thus belongs to the "home country". This allows, inter alia, the certain identification of the supervisor responsible for each institution acting as a counterparty to the monetary policy operations of the Eurosystem. The only exception to this principle - the "host country" competence for the supervision of liquidity of foreign branches - is no longer justified now that the euro is in place; hence it should soon be removed.
Second, co-operation. In a highly regulated industry such as banking, a single market that retains a plurality of "local" (national) supervisors requires close co-operation among supervisors to safeguard the public good: namely, openness, competition, safety and soundness of the banking industry. EU directives (the 1st and 2nd Banking Directives and the so-called BCCI Directive) lay the foundations for such co-operation, but they do not contain specific provisions or institutional arrangements to this end. They limit themselves to stating the principle of co-operation among national authorities and to removing obstacles to the exchange of information among them.
6. How does the Eurosystem relate to this construction? Essentially in two ways. First, the Treaty assigns to the Eurosystem the task to "contribute to the smooth conduct of policies pursued by competent authorities relating to the prudential supervision of credit institutions and the stability of the financial system" (Article 105 (5)). Given the separation between monetary and supervisory jurisdictions, this provision is clearly intended to ensure a smooth interplay between the two. Second, the Treaty gives the Eurosystem a twofold (consultative and advisory) role in the rule-making process. According to Article 105 (4), the ECB must be consulted on any draft Community and national legislation in the fields of banking supervision and financial stability; and, according to Article 25 (1) of its Statute, the ECB can provide, on its own initiative, advice on the scope and implementation of the Community legislation in these fields. It should be borne in mind that central banks are normally involved in the process of drawing up legislation relating to, for example, regulatory standards, safety net arrangements and supervision since this legislation contributes crucially to the attainment of financial stability.
7. Two observations should be made about the institutional framework just described. First, such an arrangement establishes a double separation between central banking and banking supervision: not only a geographical, but also a functional one. This is the case because for the euro area as a whole banking supervision is now entrusted to institutions that have no independent monetary policy functions. The separation approach that was chosen for EMU has effectively been applied not only to the euro area as a whole, but to its components as well. Indeed, even in countries where the competent authority for banking supervision is the central bank, by definition this authority is, functionally speaking, no longer a central bank, as it lacks the key central banking task of autonomously controlling money creation.
The second observation is that the Treaty itself establishes (in Article 105 (6)) a simplified procedure that makes it possible, without amending the Treaty, to entrust specific supervisory tasks to the ECB. If such a provision were to be activated, both the geographical and the functional separation would be abandoned at once. The fact that the Maastricht Treaty allows the present institutional framework to be reconsidered without recourse to the very heavy amendment procedure (remember that such procedure requires an intergovernmental conference, ratification by national parliaments, sometimes even a national referendum) is a highly significant indication that the drafters of the Treaty clearly understood the anomaly of the double separation and saw the potential difficulties arising from it. The simplified procedure they established could be interpreted as a "last resort clause", which might become necessary if the interaction between the Eurosystem and national supervisory authorities turned out not to work effectively.
III. INDUSTRY SCENARIO
8. When evaluating the functioning of, and the challenges to, banking supervision in the current institutional framework, two aspects should be borne in mind. First, the advent of the euro increases the likelihood of the propagation of financial stability problems across national borders. For this reason a co-ordinated supervisory response is important at an early stage. Second, the sources of banks' risks and stability problems depend on ongoing trends that are not necessarily caused by the euro, but may be significantly accelerated by it. On the whole, we are interested not so much in the effects of EMU or the euro per se, as in the foreseeable developments due to all factors influencing banking in the years to come.
9. It should be noted at the outset that most banking activity, particularly in retail banking, remains confined to national markets. In many Member States the number, and the market share, of banks that operate in a truly nationwide fashion is rather small. Although banks' international operations have increased, credit risks are still predominantly related to domestic clients, and the repercussions of bank failures would be predominantly felt by domestic borrowers and depositors.
10. Assessing the internationalisation of euro area banks is a complex task because internationalisation can take a number of forms. One is via cross-border branches and subsidiaries. Although large-scale entry into foreign banking markets in Europe is still scarce, reflecting persisting legal, cultural and conduct-of-business barriers (less than 10% on average in terms of banking assets in the euro area; Table 1), there are significant exceptions. The assets of the foreign branches and subsidiaries of German and French banks account for roughly a third of the assets of their respective domestic banking systems (Table 2). The Dutch banking system is also strongly diversified internationally.
Another way to spread banking activity beyond national borders is consolidation. Cross-border mergers or acquisitions still seem to be the exception, although things have started to change. The recent wave of "offensive" and "defensive" banking consolidation has mainly developed within national industries, thus significantly increasing concentration, particularly in the smaller countries (Table 3); it may be related not so much to the direct impact of EMU as to globally intensified competition and the need to increase efficiency.
In the coming years internationalisation is likely to increase, because, with the euro, foreign entrants can now fund lending from their domestic retail deposit base or from euro-denominated money and capital markets. The relatively large number of foreign branches and subsidiaries already established could be a sufficient base for an expansion of international banking activity (Table 4) since a single branch, or a small number of branches, may be sufficient to attract customers, especially when they are served through direct banking techniques, such as telephone and Internet banking. Also, the cross-border supply of services on a remote basis is likely to spread as direct banking techniques develop. As to cross-border mergers and acquisitions aimed either at achieving a "critical mass" for wholesale financial markets, or at rapidly acquiring local expertise and customers in the retail sector, they may remain scarce because the cost savings from eliminating overlaps in the retail network are likely to be limited and the managerial costs of integrating different structures and corporate cultures are substantial.
11. However, banks' internationalisation does not provide the full picture of the interconnections of banking systems. As "multi-product" firms, banks operate simultaneously in many markets which have different dimensions: local, national, continental (or European) and global. The advent of the euro is likely to enlarge the market for many banking products and services to the continental dimension; this will "internationalise" even those banks that remain "national" in their branch networks and organisation.
The formation of the single money market in the euro area has largely taken place already. The dispersion in the euro overnight rate across countries, as reported by 57 so-called EONIA banks, fell in January from around 15 to 5 basis points. The variation between banks has been significantly greater than between countries. The TARGET system has rapidly reached the dimension of Fedwire, with a daily average value of payments of E1,000 billion, of which between E300 and E400 are cross-border. The ever stronger interbank and payment system links clearly increase the possibility of financial instability spreading from one country to another. Through these links the failure of a major bank could affect the standing of its counterparties in the entire euro area. On the other hand, the deeper money market could absorb any specific problem more easily than before.
As regards the capital markets, the effects of the euro will take more time to manifest themselves, but are likely to be substantial. The single currency offers substantial opportunities for both debt and equity issuers and investors. The increase in the number of market participants operating in the same currency increases the liquidity of the capital markets and reduces the cost of capital. The low level of inflation and nominal interest rates and diminishing public sector deficits are additional supporting factors of capital market activity, especially private bond market activity which has so far been relatively limited (Table 5). Banks will thus operate in increasingly integrated capital markets and will be exposed to shocks originating beyond their national borders.
As to corporations, they may concentrate their operations (treasury, capital market and payment management) in a single or few "euro banks", while the disappearance of national currencies may break links between firms and their home country "house bank". This dissociation would make the domestic economy indirectly sensitive to foreign banks' soundness, thus creating another propagation channel of banking problems across countries.
12. When considering the industry scenario for the coming years, the viewpoint has to be broadened beyond the impact of the euro. Rather than the exclusive, or even primary, force for change, the euro is expected to be a catalyst for pre-existing trends driven by other forces. The recent ECB report prepared by the Banking Supervision Committee on "Possible effects of EMU on the EU banking systems in the medium to long term" gives a comprehensive analysis of such trends, which can be summarised as follows. First, regulation: the industry has yet to feel the full impact of such fundamental, but relatively recent, regulatory changes as those related to the single market legislation. Second, disintermediation: other financial intermediaries and institutional investors will grow relative to banks, pushed by demographic and social changes, as well as by the increasing depth and liquidity of the emerging euro area-wide capital market. Disintermediation is expected to take the form of increasing recourse to capital market instruments relative to bank loans by firms, and diminishing investment in deposits by households relative to mutual funds and related products. Third, information technology: bank products, operations and processes are changing rapidly, while technology offers increasing possibilities for dissociating the supply of a large number of services from branches and face-to-face contact with customers. The current tendency in the EU banking systems to reduce over-branching and over-staffing will grow stronger.
These factors will increase competition, exert pressure on profitability and oblige banks to reconsider their strategies. Such effects are already visible throughout the EU. They produce changes in organisation, new products and services, mergers, strategic alliances, co-operation agreements, etc. They also involve strategic risks, because the pressure for profitability and some losses of revenue due to the euro, for example from foreign exchange, may push some banks to seek more revenue from unfamiliar business or highly risky geographical areas. Inadequate implementation of new technologies or failure to reduce excess capacity may also affect banks' long-term viability. In the short term, the structural adaptation process could be made more difficult by the combination of factors like the protracted financial difficulties of Asia and Russia, or the preparations for the year 2000.
IV. CURRENT SUPERVISION
13. Against the background of the institutional framework and the industry scenario I have outlined, let me now turn to the functioning of banking supervision in the euro area. Two preliminary observations. First, the objective of financial stability pursued by banking supervisors is only one in a range of public interests, which also includes competition policy and depositor and investor protection policy. Second, current supervision and crisis management involve different situations and procedures and will therefore be examined in sequence.
14. Starting with current supervision, let me consider banking regulation first. As observed earlier, the regulatory platform for the euro area banking industry combines harmonised rules with country-specific (non-harmonised, but mutually recognised and hence potentially competing) rules.
The harmonised part of the platform includes most of the key prudential provisions that have been developed in national systems over the years. More than 20 years ago (1977), the 1st Banking Co-ordination Directive adopted a definition of a credit institution and prescribed objective criteria for the granting of a banking licence. In 1983 the first Directive on carrying out supervision on a consolidated basis was approved, and in 1986 the rules relating to the preparation of the annual accounts and the consolidated accounts of banks were harmonised. In 1989 the 2nd Banking Co-ordination Directive (which became effective on 1 January 1993) marked the transition from piecemeal to comprehensive legislation, introducing, inter alia, the principle of "home country control". A number of other specific directives have subsequently addressed the main aspects of the regulatory framework - notably, own funds, solvency ratios and large exposures. A Directive imposing deposit guarantee schemes supplemented the legislation in support of financial stability. All in all, the European Union, including the euro area, now has a rather comprehensive "banking law" consistent with the Basle Committee's rules and with the 1997 Core Principles of Banking Supervision.
The country-specific, non-harmonised, part of the platform is also quite relevant and very diversified. It includes, among other things, the different organisational arrangements for the conduct of banking supervision (central bank, separate agency or a mixed arrangement); the tools used by banking supervisors (e.g. supervisory reporting, on-site inspections); provisions for the liquidation and restructuring of banks; and the definition and legal protection of financial instruments and contracts. Even the key notion of a regulated market is harmonised only to a very limited extent.
15. Such "neutrality" and "incompleteness" on the part of the EU legislator with respect to key aspects that are normally incorporated in the regulatory framework is a unique feature of EU banking regulations and is likely to trigger a deregulatory process, pushed by competition among the national systems and the different financial centres in the euro area, and beyond that in the EU. Against the background of the increasing competition and other changes in the banking industry, one can expect that the regulatory platform will evolve in the years to come. Additional EU legislation may prove necessary to complete and strengthen the harmonised part. One important part of common legislation, namely the draft Directive on liquidation and re-organisation measures for credit institutions, has not yet been adopted and, indeed, has been stalled for years. This Directive is needed to bring legal certainty to the framework for banking crisis management. In this regard, it would be useful for the Eurosystem, if necessary, to be able to exclude counterparties from the single monetary policy on prudential grounds. Also, the non-harmonised part of the platform will come under pressure to converge, as I have just mentioned, through the process of "regulatory competition". Like any other rapidly changing industry, the banking sector will require careful attention by regulators. As indicated earlier, the ECB will have the possibility of contributing to the rule-making process through its advisory tasks under Article 105 (4) of the Treaty and Article 25.1 of the Statute of the ESCB.
16. On the whole, and taking a euro area perspective, the legislative-cum-regulatory platform of the banking industry, although rather unusual and very diversified in comparison with those of most currency jurisdictions, does not seem to present loopholes or inconsistencies that may hamper the pursuit of systemic stability. Seen from the point of view of the regulatory burden, it is a light system. It will become even more so if competition among national banking systems and financial centres encourages national regulators to free their banks from regulatory burdens that are not required by the EU Directives. Conversely, seen from the point of view of its flexibility, i.e. how quickly it can adapt to new situations, it is, on the contrary, a heavy system. This is the case both because the EU legislative process is slow (three years or even longer may be needed to pass Directives) and, perhaps more importantly, because many provisions are embodied in the Community primary legislation (i.e. Directives) rather than in Community secondary legislation (amendable through simpler comitology procedures).
The establishment of EMU does not seem to determine a need for revising the pillars of the current legal framework. What seems to be necessary, however, is a more flexible legislative procedure which allows for a faster and more effective revision of Community legislation, whenever needed in relation to market developments.
17. Let me now turn to the execution of banking supervision. It should immediately be recalled that supervision, contrary to regulation, is a national task, exercised by what the jargon of the Directives calls the "competent authority". Since the euro area has adopted a separation approach between supervisory and central banking functions, it is natural to examine first the functioning of the "euro area supervisor" (i.e. the co-operative system of national supervisors) and then turn to the tasks and needs of the "euro area central banker" (i.e. the Eurosystem).
18. The euro area supervisor can be regarded as a rather peculiar entity composed of national agencies working in three modes: stand-alone, bilateral and multilateral. Let us briefly examine each of them.
The stand-alone mode is the one in which the supervisor exclusively operates in the national (or even local) context. Today it is by far the most predominant mode. In most cases, this approach is sufficient to achieve the objectives of banking supervision because most banks in Europe are operating in a context that does not even reach the nationwide market of the country of origin. Such a decentralised model is even more effective because it allows the efficient use of information that may not be available far from the market in which the bank operates. That is why it is actually applied even within countries. In Italy, for example, over 600 of the 900 licensed credit institutions at end-1998 were entirely supervised by the Banca d'Italia branch of the town in which the bank is licensed.
The bilateral mode involves co-operation between two supervisory agencies. It is used for cross-border supervision of the same type of financial institutions, such as credit institutions, or the supervision of different types of financial institutions operating in the same market, such as credit institutions and securities firms. The instrument that has been devised to organise bilateral co-operation between banking supervisors is the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). With the implementation of the 2nd Banking Co-ordination Directive, the Member States began to negotiate extensively MoUs in order to establish the necessary co-operation between "home" and "host country" authorities to supervise efficiently institutions that have cross-border activities or foreign country establishments.
By the end of 1997, 78 bilateral MoUs had been signed between the EEA banking supervisory authorities. The key aims of MoUs are to establish a regular exchange of information between national supervisory authorities. While the "gateways" for the exchange of information have been laid down in Community legislation, MoUs provide a practical framework for communication to be carried out between supervisors. Moreover, MoUs define procedures and reciprocal commitments between pairs of EU supervisors related to the various parts of the supervisory process, such as establishment procedures and on-site examinations.
Finally, the multilateral mode is the one in which a group of supervisors works collectively as, say, a single consolidated supervisor. Such a mode is required when the problems involved are area-wide. They may be area-wide for a number of reasons with regard to the institutions, or groups, involved: their dimension; their linkages with a number of different markets in various countries; the role they play in the payment system or in other "systemic" components of the market, etc. Multilateral co-operation can also enhance the quality of supervision by examining common macroeconomic influences on the banking system and common trends in the financial system that may not be revealed from the national perspective only.
Today, the Banking Supervision Committee is the key forum for multilateral co-operation. It is composed of representatives of the banking supervisory authorities of the EU countries, either forming part of the respective NCB or separate bodies. The Banking Supervision Committee's main functions are the promotion of a smooth exchange of information between the Eurosystem and national supervisory authorities and co-operation among EU supervisory authorities. Another forum for dealing with the requirements of the multilateral mode is the Groupe de Contact, a group of EU banking supervisory authorities which, for many years, has discussed individual banking cases in a multilateral way, but at a lower organisational level than the high-level Banking Supervision Committee.
19. So far, the need to develop the multilateral mode has been relatively limited, as the emergence of a single banking market in the European Union has been slow and the euro was not yet in place. Thus, the fact that the multilateral mode has not gone, for the moment, beyond periodic discussions among supervisors and occasional industry-wide analyses should not be a cause for concern.
I am convinced, however, that in the future the needs will change and the multilateral mode will have to deepen substantially. Over time such a mode will have to be structured to the point of providing the banking industry with a true and effective collective euro area supervisor. It will have to be enhanced to the full extent required for banking supervision in the euro area to be as prompt and effective as it is within a single nation.
There are no legal impediments to that. The existing legislation, whether Community or national, permits all the necessary steps to be made. Information can be pooled; reporting requirements and examination practices can be developed and standardised; common databases can be created; joint teams can be formed; and analyses of developments across the whole banking system can be conducted. The Community legislation providing for the unconstrained exchange of confidential information between supervisors does not distinguish between bilateral and multilateral co-operation, but the common interpretation is that it covers both modes. It will be the task of the Banking Supervision Committee, for its part, to develop the multilateral mode among EU banking supervisors.
20. If the above concerns primarily the euro area supervisor, what about the euro area central banker, i.e. the Eurosystem? The euro area central banker has neither direct responsibility for supervising banks nor for bank stability. It is, however, no stranger in this land. It has a vital interest in a stable and efficient banking industry; it is, therefore, keen to see its action complemented with an effective conduct of the supervisory functions by the competent authorities; it needs a clear and precise knowledge of the state of the euro area's banking industry as a whole and of its major individual players; and it may have a role to play, as we shall see, in the management of crises.
For the Eurosystem, natural reference models are provided by the central banks of countries that apply the separation approach, for example: Germany before the euro; the United Kingdom after the creation of the Financial Services Authority; or Japan. In all these cases the central bank has a well-developed expertise in the micro and macro-prudential field; each distinctively plays a role in the macro-prudential field by addressing threats to the stability of the banking system and analysing the soundness of the structural features of the system. For their own purposes, these central banks also have precise and comprehensive information about the banks in their respective country. This is obtained either from performing practical supervisory duties, as in the case of the Bank of Japan or the Bundesbank; or from the national supervisory authority; or through direct contacts with the banking industry, as in the case of the Bank of England.
The Banking Supervision Committee is in a good position to co-operate with the Eurosystem in the collection of information. Indeed, the so-called BCCI Directive has removed the legal obstacles to the transmission of confidential information from competent supervisory authorities to "central banks and other bodies with a similar function in their capacity as monetary authorities". This includes national central banks and the ECB. Of course, the provision of supervisory information is voluntary and its development will have to be based on an agreed view of the central banking requirements the Eurosystem will have in this field.
V. CRISIS MANAGEMENT
21. In normal circumstances central banking and prudential supervision have an arm's length distance between them. In crisis situations, however, they need to act closely together, often in co-operation with other authorities as well. Charles Goodhart and Dirk Schoenmaker have made here at the London School of Economics a valuable contribution to analysing the handling of major banking problems in the history of industrial countries. One of their conclusions is that, in most instances, central banks have indeed been involved. Banking problems are so close to monetary stability, payment system integrity and liquidity management that this finding hardly comes as a surprise. The advent of the euro will not, by itself, change this state of affairs.
22. When discussing crisis management, it should not be forgotten that, while central banks have a direct and unique role to play when the creation of central bank money is involved, this represents just one category of emergency action. Another category refers to the injection - by politically liable Finance Ministries - of taxpayers' money into ailing or insolvent credit institutions. There is also a third, market-based, category, consisting of the injection of private money by banks or other market participants. These three typologies of emergency action all require the involvement of policy-makers, but they must not be mixed up when evaluating the existing arrangements. Therefore, before discussing the much debated question of the lender-of-last-resort, let me briefly comment on the two, probably less controversial cases where central bankers are not the providers of extra funds.
23. First, the "private money solution". This market-based approach is clearly the preferable option, not just to save public funds and avoid imbalances in public finances, but also to reduce the moral hazard problem generated by public assistance to ailing institutions. Indeed, policy-makers are increasingly aware that the expectations of a helping hand can increase financial institutions' risk appetite in the first place. However, even when a market-based solution is possible, on the grounds of private interest, private parties may not be able to reach a solution for lack of information or co-ordination. Public authorities have therefore an active role to play for the market solution to materialise. The recent rescue package co-ordinated by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to prevent the LTCM hedge fund from collapsing is a good example of public intervention being used to achieve a private solution.
Acting as a "midwife" in brokering a private sector deal is not the only example of managing crises without injecting public funds. Banking supervisors have at their disposal a number of tools to intervene at the national level to limit losses and prevent insolvency when a bank faces difficulties. These tools include special audits, business restrictions and various reorganisation measures.
In the euro area, national supervisors and central banks will continue to be the key actors in the pursuit of market-based solutions to crises. The Eurosystem, or the Banking Supervision Committee, would become naturally involved whenever the relevance of the crisis required it.
24. Second, the "taxpayers' money solution". Taxpayers have been forced to shoulder banks' losses in the past, when public authorities felt that otherwise the failure of a large portion of a country's banking system or of a single significant institution would have disrupted financial stability and caused negative macroeconomic consequences. In such instances banks have been taken over by the state, or their bad assets have been transferred to a separate public entity to attract new private investment in the sound part of the otherwise failed banks. The US savings & loans crisis of the 1980s, the banking crises in Scandinavia in the early 1990s and the current banking crises in Japan and some East-Asian countries are examples of system-wide insolvency problems that have triggered taxpayers' support. Crйdit Lyonnais and Banco di Napoli are recent examples of public support to individual insolvency problems.
The introduction of the euro leaves crisis management actions involving taxpayers' money practically unaffected. The option of injecting equity or other funds remains available for the Member States, since these operations are not forbidden by the Treaty. Nevertheless, the European Commission will be directly involved in scrutinising and authorising such actions, since any state aid must be compatible with the Community's competition legislation. This happened, for example, in the cases of Banco di Napoli and Crйdit Lyonnais.
The handling of solvency crises is not within the competence of the national central banks nor that of the ECB, although national central banks are likely to be consulted, as they have been in the past.
25. Third, the "central bank money solution". This is the lender-of-last-resort issue that has brought the Eurosystem under vigorous criticism by distinguished academics and the IMF's Capital Markets Division of the Research Department. The criticism has been that the alleged absence of a clear and transparent mechanism to act in an emergency raises doubts in the markets about the ability of the Eurosystem to handle crisis situations. It is said that the uncertainty generated by the present arrangements would entail new risks, including the possibility of investors requiring an additional risk premium at times of financial market volatility and, ultimately, of the credibility of EMU being damaged. Two examples of these concerns deserve an explicit mention. The IMF "Report on Capital Markets", September 1998, stated that "it is unclear how a bank crisis would be handled under the current institutional framework …which is not likely to be sustainable". Similarly, the first report of the CEPR (Centre for Economic Policy Research) on monitoring the ECB entitled "The ECB: Safe at Any Speed?" expressly suggested that the Eurosystem lacks crisis management capacity and is too rigid to pass the A-Class test to keep the vehicle on the road at the first steep turn in financial market conditions in Europe.
26. My response to this criticism is threefold. To my mind, the criticism reflects a notion of lender-of-last-resort operations that is largely outdated; it underestimates the Eurosystem's capacity to act; and, finally, it represents too mechanistic a view of how a crisis is, and should be, managed in practice.
27. The notion of a central bank's lender-of-last-resort function dates back more than 120 years, to the time of Bagehot. This notion refers to emergency lending to institutions that, although solvent, suffer a rapid liquidity outflow due to a sudden collapse in depositors' confidence, i.e. a classic bank run. A bank could be exposed to depositors' panic even if solvent because of the limited amount of bank liquidity and an information asymmetry between the depositors and the bank concerning the quality of bank's assets that do not have a secondary market value.
Nowadays and in our industrial economies, runs may occur mainly in textbooks. They have little relevance in reality because, since Bagehot, many antidotes have been adopted: deposit insurance, the regulation of capital adequacy and large exposures, improved licensing and supervisory standards all contribute to the preservation of depositors' confidence and minimise the threat of a contagion from insolvent to solvent institutions.
A less unlikely case is a rapid outflow of uninsured interbank liabilities. However, since interbank counterparties are much better informed than depositors, this event would typically require the market to have a strong suspicion that the bank is actually insolvent. If such a suspicion were to be unfounded and not generalised, the width and depth of today's interbank market is such that other institutions would probably replace (possibly with the encouragement of the public authorities as described above) those which withdraw their funds. It should be noted, in this respect, that the emergence of the single euro money market lowers banks' liquidity risk, because the number of possible sources of funds is now considerably larger than in the past.
Given all of these contingencies, the probability that a modern bank is solvent, but illiquid, and at the same time lacks sufficient collateral to obtain regular central bank funding, is, in my view, quite small. The textbook case for emergency liquidity assistance to individual solvent institutions has, as a matter of fact, been a most rare event in industrial countries over the past decades.
28. What if this rare event were nevertheless to occur and cause a systemic threat? The clear answer is that the euro area authorities would have the necessary capacity to act. This is not only my judgement, but also that of the Eurosystem, whose decision-making bodies have, as you can imagine, carefully discussed the matter. I am not saying that we are, or shall be, infallible; no one can claim such a divine quality. I am saying that there are neither legal-cum-institutional, nor organisational, nor intellectual impediments to acting when needed. In stating this, I am aware that central banks may be the only source of immediate and adequate funds when a crisis requires swift action, while solvency remains an issue and failure to act could threaten the stability of the financial system.
In these circumstances the various national arrangements would continue to apply, including those concerning the access of central banks to supervisors' confidential information. As is well known, such arrangements differ somewhat from country to country.
29. The criticism I have referred to also underestimates the Eurosystem's capacity to act. To the extent that there would be an overall liquidity effect that is relevant for monetary policy or a financial stability implication for the euro area, the Eurosystem itself would be actively involved.
The Eurosystem is, of course, well equipped for its two collective decision-making bodies (the Board and the Council) to take decisions quickly whenever needed, whether for financial stability or for other reasons. This readiness is needed for a variety of typical central bank decisions, such as the execution of concerted interventions or the handling of payment system problems. Indeed, it has already been put to work during the changeover weekend and in the first few weeks of this year.
A clear reassurance about the capacity to act when really needed should be sufficient for the markets. Indeed, it may even be advisable not to spell out beforehand the procedural and practical details of emergency actions. As Gerry Corrigan once put it, maintaining "constructive ambiguity" in these matters may help to reduce the moral hazard associated with a safety net. I know of no central bank law within which the lender-of-last-resort function is explicitly defined.
The question of who acts within the Eurosystem should also be irrelevant for the markets, given that any supervised institution has an unambiguously identified supervisor and national central bank. As to the access to supervisory information, the lack of direct access by the Eurosystem should not be regarded as a specific flaw of the euro area's institutional framework, as has been frequently argued, since this situation also exists at the national level wherever a central bank does not carry out day-to-day supervision.
30. Finally, the criticism reflects an overly mechanistic view of how a crisis is, and should be, managed in practice. Arguing in favour of fully disclosed, rule-based policies in order to manage crises successfully and, hence, maintain market confidence, is almost self-contradictory. Emergency situations always contain unforeseen events and novel features, and emergency, by its very nature, is something that allows and even requires a departure from the rules and procedures adopted for normal times or even in the previous crisis. Who cares so much about the red light when there is two metres of snow on the road? As for transparency and accountability, these two sacrosanct requirements should not be pushed to the point of being detrimental to the very objective for which a policy instrument is created. Full explanations of the actions taken and procedures followed may be appropriate ex post, but unnecessary and undesirable ex ante.
31. So far, I have focused on the provision of emergency liquidity to a bank. This is not the only case, however, in which central bank money may have to be created to avoid a systemic crisis. A general liquidity "dry-up" may reflect, for example, a gridlock in the payment system or a sudden drop in stock market prices. The actions of the Federal Reserve in response to the stock market crash of 1987 is an often cited example of a successful central bank operation used to prevent a dangerous market-wide liquidity shortfall. This kind of action is close to the monetary policy function and has been called the "market operations approach" to lending of last resort. In such cases, liquidity shortfalls could be covered through collateralised intraday or overnight credit, or auctioning extra liquidity to the market. The Eurosystem is prepared to handle this kind of market disturbance.
32. In my remarks this evening, I have looked at the euro area as one that has a central bank which does not carry out banking supervision. This would be normal, because in many countries banking supervision is not a task of the central bank. What is unique is that the areas of jurisdiction of monetary policy and of banking supervision do not coincide. This situation requires, first of all, the establishment of smooth co-operation between the Eurosystem and the national banking supervisors, as is the case at the national level where the two functions are separated. The most prominent reason for this is, of course, the scenario where the provision of liquidity from the central bank has to be made in a situation that is generated by problems of interest to the supervisor. But beyond that, I do not know any country in which the central bank is not very closely interested in the state of health of the banking system, irrespective of its supervisory responsibilities.
33. In my view, we should move as rapidly as possible to a model in which the present division of the geographical and functional jurisdiction between monetary policy and banking supervision plays no significant role. I do not mean necessarily a single authority or a single set of prudential rules. Rather I mean that the system of national supervisors needs to operate as effectively as a single authority when needed. While the causes of banking problems are often local or national, the propagation of problems may be area-wide. The banking industry is much more of a system than other financial institutions.
34. I am clearly aware that we are far from having a common supervisory system. But since the euro has just been launched and will last, we have to look in prospective terms at what needs to be set in place. There is no expectation, at least to my mind, that the division of responsibility in the euro area between the central bank and the banking supervisory functions should be abandoned. Although the Treaty has a provision that permits the assignment of supervisory tasks to the ECB, I personally do not rely on the assumption that this clause will be activated. What I perceive as absolutely necessary, however, is that co-operation among banking supervisors, which is largely voluntary but which finds no obstacles in the existing Directives or in the Treaty, will allow a sort of euro area collective supervisor to emerge that can act as effectively as if there were a single supervisor. This is desirable in the first instance to render the supervisory action more effective against the background of current and future challenges and, second, to assist the Eurosystem in the performance of its basic tasks.
Table 1. Market share of branches and subsidiaries of foreign
credit institutions as % of total domestic assets, 1997
From EEA countries From third countries TOTAL
Branches Subsidiaries Branches Subsidiaries
AT 0.7 1.6 0.1 1.0 3.4
BE 9.0 19.2 6.9 1.2 36.3
DE 0.9 1.4 0.7 1.2 4.2
ES 4.8 3.4 1.6 1.9 11.7
FI 7.1 0 0 0 7.1
FR 2.5 NA 2.7 NA 9.8
IR 17.7 27.8 1.2 6.9 53.6
IT 3.6 1.7 1.4 0.1 6.8
NL 2.3 3.0 0.5 1.9 7.7
SE 1.3 0.1 0.1 0.2 1.7
UK 22.5 1.0 23.0 5.6 52.1
Source: ECB report "Possible effects of EMU on the EU banking
systems in the medium to long term" (February 1999).
Table 2. Assets of branches and subsidiaries of domestic credit
institutions in foreign countries
as % of total domestic assets, 1997
In EEA countries In third countries TOTAL
Branches Subsidiaries Branches Subsidiaries
AT 2.6 NA 3.7 NA NA
DE 12.0 7.3 7.8 0.9 27.9
ES 5.5 1.4 2.1 5.9 14.9
FI 5.9 0.3 6.6 0.3 13.1
FR 9.1 6.9 9.4 3.8 29.2
IR 8.3 14.9 1.3 10.1 34.6
IT 7.2 2.7 3.8 1.5 15.2
SE 7.2 NA 5.4 NA NA
Source: ECB report "Possible effects of EMU on the EU banking
systems in the medium to long term" (February 1999).
Table 3. Concentration: Assets of the five biggest credit
institutions as % of total assets
1985 1990 1997
AT 35.8 34.6 48.3
BE 48.0 48.0 57.0
DE NA 13.9 16.7
ES 38.1 34.9 43.6
FI 51.7 53.5 77.8
FR 46.0 42.5 40.3
IE 47.5 44.2 40.7
IT 20.9 19.1 24.6
NL 69.3 73.4 79.4
SE 60.2 70.02 89.7
UK NA NA 28.0
Source: ECB report "Possible effects of EMU on the EU banking
systems in the medium to long term" (February 1999).
Table 4. Number of branches and subsidiaries of foreign credit
From EEA countries From third countries TOTAL
Branches Subsidiaries Branches Subsidiaries
AT 6 20 2 11 39
BE 25 16 15 15 71
DE 46 31 31 45 153
ES 33 21 20 6 80
FI 9 0 0 0 9
FR 46 118 43 98 305
IR 18 21 3 7 49
IT 36 4 17 4 61
NL 11 8 11 19 49
SE 14 0 3 1 18
UK 106 18 149 114 387
Source: ECB report "Possible effects of EMU on the EU banking
systems in the medium to long term" (February 1999).
Table 5. Private non-financial enterprises' bonds, credit
institutions' bonds and government bonds outstanding as % of GDP,
Private Credit Government
non-financial institutions' bonds
AT 2.7 31.1 30.6
BE 10.0 38.3 111.0
DE 0.1 54.6 37.6
ES 2.6 4.5 52.9
FI 3.7 7.1 35.5
IE 0.01 1.6 32.2
IT 1.6 19.4 100.4
NL NA 43.1 53.4
SE 3.6 38.6 46.5
Source: ECB report "Possible effects of EMU on the EU banking
systems in the medium to long term" (February 1999).
Euro and European integration
Speech delivered by Eugenio Domingo Solans,
Member of the Governing Council and the Executive Board of the
European Central Bank,
at the "Euro and Denmark" exhibition in Aalborg, Denmark,
on 10 September 1999
It is a real pleasure for me to participate in the "Euro and Denmark" exhibition in Aalborg. It is the first time since my appointment as a member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank (ECB) in May 1998 that I have had the opportunity to speak in Denmark. Thank you for your invitation and for asking me to share my views on the euro and on European integration with investors and experts of this "pre-in" country.
I should like to refer to two main topics. First, and more extensively, allow me to explain the ECB's view and my own view on the role of the euro as an international currency. After this I intend to make some brief comments on the key role that the euro and the Eurosystem are playing in the process of European economic integration.
Before I begin, I should like to add that it goes without saying that the institutional position of the ECB - and therefore my own official position - concerning Denmark's entry to the euro area is one of strict neutrality. This is an issue which has to be decided by the Danish people, whenever and in whatever way they deem appropriate.
THE EURO AS AN INTERNATIONAL CURRENCY
The three basic functions of the euro
Every currency fulfils three functions: store of value, medium of exchange and unit of account. Concerning the first function (store of value), the euro is used and will increasingly be used as an investment and financing currency by market players, and as a reserve currency by public authorities. Regarding the second function of money (medium of exchange), the euro is used and will increasingly be used as a payment or vehicle currency for the exchange of goods and services and for currency exchange itself. It will also have an official use as an intervention currency. Finally, as regards the third function of any currency (unit of account), the euro is used and will increasingly be used by economic agents as a pricing or quotation currency and as a pegging currency by the authorities responsible for exchange rate issues.
Let me give you some information about the present use of the euro in each of these areas. I shall first refer to the private use of the euro, after which I shall consider its official public usage.
The euro as a store of value
The available information seems to confirm that the euro already plays a significant role as an investment and financing currency in international financial markets. Without going into precise details (1), regarding the international debt securities market (money market instruments, bills and bonds), it can be said that in the first two quarters of 1999 net international issues denominated in euro amounted to EUR 83.9 billion, compared with EUR 74 billion for the US dollar and EUR 50.9 billion for former euro area national currencies and ECUs during the same period of 1998. In other words, in the first two quarters of 1999 net international issues of debt securities denominated in euro were 13.4% higher than those denominated in US dollars, and 64.8% higher than those denominated in former euro area national currencies and ECUs issued during the same period of last year.
With regard to equity markets, the weight of euro area stock exchanges in terms of capitalisation ranks a clear second, far behind the United States.
As to the banking sector, the latest data show that, at the end of March 1999, above 40% of deposits and loans vis-а-vis non-residents were denominated in euro, with the share of the US dollar almost as high.
The euro as a medium of exchange
As for the second function of money (medium of exchange), the euro needs more time to develop as a payment currency for goods and services in international trade and as a vehicle currency in the foreign exchange markets. Although no precise data are available at this stage, the value of world exports denominated in euro is not likely to differ significantly from that of euro area exports. By contrast, the value of world exports settled in US dollars is nearly four times as high as that of US exports. This difference can easily be explained by the combined and reinforcing effects of network externalities and economies of scale in the use of a predominant international currency, as is the case with the US dollar.
The euro as a unit of account
The use of the euro as a unit of account (its third general function) is closely linked to its use for the other two main functions. The use of a currency as a unit of account is, in a way, the basis for its use as a store of value or as a medium of exchange. The value stored in euro, or the payments made in euro, will tend to be recorded in euro. Therefore, we can conclude that the euro is playing an ever larger role as a unit of account for all the financial assets linked to the use of the euro as an investment and financing currency, and has a much less relevant role as a standard for pricing goods and services, owing to the widespread use of the US dollar as a payment and vehicle currency in international trade. The convenience of using a single standard for pricing commodities in the international markets, allowing traders to make direct comparisons between prices, makes it difficult for the euro to acquire a significant role in this respect. We can conclude that the development of the euro as a unit of account will follow the pace at which the issuers or suppliers of assets, goods or services priced or quoted in euro obtain a predominant position in the international markets.
The official use of the euro
The euro also has official uses as reserve, intervention and pegging currency, all three functions being strongly interrelated in most cases.
With regard to its official use, the euro is currently the second most international currency after the US dollar, this being a legacy of the former euro area national currencies.
Compared with the former euro area national currencies, there has been a technical decline in the share of the euro as a reserve (and, therefore, as an intervention) currency, mainly owing to the fact that such former national currencies became domestic assets within the euro area. However, there are good reasons to expect an increase in international public use of the euro as a reserve and intervention currency, inasmuch as the public authorities understand that it is worthwhile to allocate their foreign reserves among the main international currencies and to give the euro a relevant share in accordance with its internal and external stability and the economic and financial importance of the euro area.
In connection with the use of the euro as a pegging currency, approximately 30 countries outside the euro area currently have exchange rate regimes involving the euro to a greater or lesser extent. These exchange rate regimes are: currency boards (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Estonia); currencies pegged to the euro (Cyprus, FYROM [the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia] and 14 African countries in which the CFA franc is the legal tender); currencies pegged to a basket of currencies including the euro, in some cases with a fluctuation band (Hungary, Iceland, Poland, Turkey, etc.); systems of managed floating in which the euro is used informally as the reference currency (Czech Republic, Slovak Republic and Slovenia); and, last but not least, European Union currencies pegged to the euro through a co-operative arrangement, namely ERM II. As you well know, Denmark and Greece joined ERM II on 1 January 1999 with a ±2.25% fluctuation band for the Danish krone and a ±15% fluctuation band for the Greek drachma. Although the euro remains in second position after the US dollar in terms of its official use, the role of the euro will increase in the future, without a doubt.
The position of the Eurosystem concerning the international role of the euro
As a general conclusion stemming from the previous analysis of the use of the euro in the world economy, we can affirm that the euro is the second most widely used currency, behind the US dollar and ahead of the Japanese yen. The private use of the euro as an investment and financing currency and its official use as a reserve, intervention and pegging currency are increasing rapidly, while it is developing at a slower pace as a payment currency in the exchange of goods and services. The use of the euro as a unit of account is linked to its use as store of value and a medium of exchange.
Taking the current situation as a starting point, the Eurosystem's position concerning the future international role of the euro is crystal clear: we shall not adopt a belligerent stance in order to force the use of the euro upon the world economy. We are convinced that the use of the euro as an international currency will come about anyway. It will happen spontaneously, slowly but inexorably, without any impulses other than those based on free will and the decisions of market participants, without any logic other than that of the market. In other words, the internationalisation of the euro is not a policy objective of the Eurosystem; it will neither be fostered nor hindered by us. The development of the euro as an international currency will be a market-driven process, a free process, which will take place, without a doubt.
Factors determining the importance of the euro in the world economy
We understand that the euro fulfils the necessary conditions to become a leading international currency with the US dollar and not against it. There is enough room for both currencies in the world economy.
The necessary conditions for a currency to become an international currency are based on two broad factors: low risk and large size. The low risk factor is related to the confidence inspired by the currency and its central bank, which in turn mainly depends on the internal and external stability of the currency. The low risk factor tends to lead to diversification among international currencies, since diversification is a means to reduce the overall risk; it acts, so to speak, as a centrifugal force. By contrast, the large size factor relates to the relative demographic economic and financial importance of the area which supports the currency; in other words, the "habitat" of the currency. The large size factor generally tends to lead to centralisation around one or several key international currencies. It can be seen as a centripetal force, as a virtuous circle, which will tend to lead to an increasing use of the euro as an international currency. Let us consider these two factors in more detail.
The stability of the currency and the credibility of the ECB
The first factor concerns low risk, credibility and stability. The stability of the euro is a priority for the ECB. Compared with the idea of stability, the strength of the euro is of lesser importance. This does not mean that the exchange rate of the euro does not constitute an element to be considered in the monetary policy strategy of the ECB. However, the basic factor that will determine the importance of the euro as a widely used currency in the world economy, in addition to the demographic, economic and financial dimensions of the euro area, is, without a doubt, the stability of the new currency, understood as a means to maintain the purchasing power of savings.
In the global economy the transmission of financial crises by means of different mechanisms (devaluations of weak currencies, subsequent increases in interest rates, etc.) is frequently mentioned. Less is said about the spillover or transmission of positive economic circumstances, such as stability. The Eurosystem will "export" stability to the rest of the world economy, and not only in the case of those countries which decide to tie their currencies, formally or otherwise, to the euro (through the ERM II or other arrangements). In a global economy the euro area cannot be an island of stability, but it can transmit its stability to the rest of the world economy as the links between regions increase.
Stability is the basic requirement for a good currency. It is what we at the ECB want for the euro. We want a stable euro, not necessarily a strong euro. In the long term the euro will derive strength from its stability.
The stability of the euro is the basis for the confidence in and the credibility of the ECB, without which a large international role for the euro would be unthinkable. Stability is the proof of the effectiveness of the institution. Yet in order to be credible it is not sufficient for the ECB to maintain stability. Other parameters of its action must be considered: accountability, transparency and communication, a Europe-wide perspective.
The conditions for the credibility of the euro are certainly demanding. However, the achievement of these conditions is the aim of all those of us who have responsibilities in relation to the operation of the Eurosystem.
The "habitat" of the euro
The second factor, which we have called the large size factor or the habitat of the euro, is important because without a certain critical mass, a currency cannot have international relevance, however high its degree of stability. In addition to quality, quantity is required, as suggested by the example of the reduced degree of international use of the Swiss franc in relation to other stable currencies, such as the US dollar or the Deutsche
Mark until 1998.
The figures relating to the population and the GDP of the euro area illustrate this. With 292 million inhabitants, its population exceeds that of the United States (270 million) and that of Japan (127 million). The GDP of the euro area is, on the other hand, equal to 76% of the GDP of the United States (EUR 5,774 billion compared with EUR 7,592 billion), though it is higher than that of Japan (EUR 3,327 billion). The source of this information, which refers to 1998, is Eurostat.
However, even more important than the current figures is the potential for the future development of the euro area, in terms of population and GDP, if and when the so-called "pre-ins" (Denmark, Greece, Sweden and the United Kingdom) join the Eurosystem.
The entry of these countries would result in a monetary area of 376 million inhabitants, 39% larger than the United States and almost triple the size of Japan, with a GDP of EUR 7,495 billion, only slightly less than that of the United States and 125% higher than that of Japan.
All these facts and figures which demonstrate the demographic and economic importance of the European Union would be further strengthened by enlargement to Eastern Europe. Our continent has a historical, cultural and geographical identity - from the Iberian Peninsula to the Urals, with certain additional external territories - which, in the future, may also come to form an economic unit. However that is, for the moment, a distant prospect.
The degree of openness of an economic area is also a relevant factor as regards the international role of its currency. In this respect the euro area is more open than the United States or Japan, with a percentage of external trade of around 25.8% of GDP, compared with 19.6% for the United States and 17.9% in the case of Japan (data from Eurostat for 1997). However, a euro area consisting of the 15 countries of the European Union would be more closed, by the mere arithmetic fact that the transactions with the present pre-ins would become domestic transactions, resulting in a coefficient of openness of 19.4%, similar to that of the United States. Clearly, the size and the degree of openness are parameters that move in opposite directions: the larger the euro area, the smaller its degree of openness to other countries.
The financial dimension of the euro
The size or habitat of an economy does not only depend on demographic or economic factors; it also has to do with the financial base or dimension of the area. In considering the financial dimension of the euro area, the first relevant feature to observe is the low level of capitalisation of the stock markets in comparison with the United States and Japan. Compared with a stock market capitalisation of EUR 3,655 billion in the euro area in 1998, the United States presents a figure almost four times this amount (EUR 13,025 billion). Japan ranks third, with EUR 2,091 billion. There would be a marked difference if one were to include all 15 countries of the European Union, since the stock exchange capitalisation would increase to EUR 6,081 billion.
Although these figures could give the impression that the euro area has a relatively small financial dimension relative to its economic dimension, this is not the case. The lower degree of development of the capital markets is offset by a higher degree of banking assets. This means that the financial base of real economic activity in Europe is founded on bank intermediation, which is also a feature of the Japanese economy. For example, private domestic credit in the euro area amounts to 92.4% of GDP, while in the United States it is only 68.9%. Conversely, fixed domestic income represents 34.2% of GDP in the euro area compared with 66.1% of GDP in the United States (statistics from the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements as at the end of 1997, taken from the Monthly Bulletin of the European Central Bank). We therefore have two distinct models of private financing which clearly have to be taken into account when assessing Europe's financial dimension compared with the United States or Japan.
THE ROLE OF THE EURO AND THE EUROSYSTEM IN THE PROCESS OF
The euro as a catalyst for European integration
The euro, the Eurosystem's monetary policy and, in general, the activity of the ECB and the Eurosystem will play a key role in the integration of European financial markets and all markets in general. We can say that the euro will act as a catalyst for European economic integration.
Monetary and financial integration
The integration of the European money markets relies, of course, on the existence of a single system for refinancing the banks in the euro area, that is to say on the common monetary policy. However, it also relies technically on a system of instantaneous data transfer and on the new common payment system, TARGET, enabling real-time gross settlement. Thanks to the smooth operation of the information, communication and payment systems, a common monetary policy is realistic and the integration of the markets can take place. Such integration will, in turn, involve greater liquidity and further development of the financial markets.
A specific channel through which the monetary policy of the ECB and the TARGET system can have a direct impact on the development of the financial markets of the euro area is the requirement to have guarantees or collateral for operations with the ECB. This requirement for adequate collateral can stimulate the process of loan securitisation, especially in the case of the banking institutions of certain financial systems. The underlying assets can be used across borders, which means that a banking institution in a country belonging to the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) can receive funds from its national central bank by pledging assets located in other countries, which is also relevant from the perspective of the integration of the financial markets of the area.
The trend towards further integration of the European financial markets, accompanied by increased use of the euro as a vehicle for international investment, should logically follow a process which would start in the short-term money market, subsequently be expanded into the longer-term money market and finally extend to the public and private bond and equity markets. In the short term there must be a tendency for the differentials in money market interest rates to be eliminated, as the functioning of the market improves, while in the long-term securities markets - both public and private, of course - interest rates will always include a risk premium linked to the degree of solvency of the country (deficit and public debt, commitments on pensions), or to the credit risk of the private issuer, and to the liquidity of the securities.
Economic integration Monetary and financial integration stemming from the euro and the activity of the Eurosystem will affect the operation of the European single market in a positive way. The European market, with a single currency, will tend to be more transparent, more competitive, more efficient and will function more smoothly. This is the reason why joining the European Union, as a general rule, leads to joining the euro area, once certain economic conditions (the so-called convergence criteria) are fulfilled.
The case of Denmark, as you will know better than I, constitutes an accepted exception to the general rule, formalised in Protocol No. 8 on Denmark of the Treaty on European Union signed in Maastricht on 7 February 1992, and in the so-called "Decision concerning certain problems raised by Denmark on the Treaty on European Union" of 11 and 12 December 1992, which contains the notification from Denmark that it would not participate in the third stage of the European Economic and Monetary Union.
However, the Danish krone was in fact pegged to the Deutsche Mark from 1982 until the end of 1998. Furthermore, since 1 January 1999 it has been participating in ERM II with a rather narrow fluctuation band of ±2.25%, and effectively has had an almost fixed exchange rate vis-а-vis the euro. Therefore, the Danish monetary policy, through this exchange rate strategy, is the monetary policy of the Eurosystem. In other words, Denmark follows "the rules of the game" almost entirely, or as the Governor of Danmarks Nationalbank, Ms Bodil Nyboe Andersen, often says, "The Danish krone shadows the euro".
In this connection, and before the question and answer session begins, let me conclude by addressing the following key questions to you, on the understanding that this is a rhetorical way to express my ideas and that I do not necessarily expect any of you to answer them.
If Denmark already is following "the rules of the game", why, then, should you not make use of the advantages of belonging to the Eurosystem? Why, then, should you not participate in the decisions concerning the monetary policy which, in actual fact, applies to Denmark?
(1) For a more detailed analysis, see the article entitled "The international role of the euro", in the August 1999 edition of the ECB's Monthly Bulletin, pp. 31-35.
European Economic and Monetary Union - principles and
Summary of a presentation by Ms Sirkka Hдmдlдinen,
Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank,
The Tore Browaldh lecture 1999,
School of Economics and Commercial Law, Gцteborg University,
Gothenburg, 25 February 1999
The European integration process started shortly after the Second World War and was, at the time, strongly motivated by political factors. The aim was to eliminate the risk that wars and crises would once more plague the continent. The first concrete result was the establishment, in 1952, of the European Coal and Steel Community between six countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands). This was followed by the adoption of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, laying the foundations for the European Economic Community.
The first concrete proposal for a Monetary Union was presented in the so-called Werner Report in 1970. The Report was intended to pave the way for the establishment of a Monetary Union in the early 1980s. However, the proposals of the Werner Report were never implemented - being overtaken by world events. After the break-up of the Bretton Woods system and the shock of the first oil crisis in 1973, most western European economies were contaminated by the economic sickness popularly labelled "Eurosclerosis", characterised by high inflation and persisting unemployment. At that time, the European economies were protected by regulations and financial markets were still poorly developed. In this environment, it was concluded that a Monetary Union would not be possible and the project was postponed.
The idea of establishing Monetary Union was revived only in 1988 and a detailed proposal was presented the following year in the Delors Report, after the launch (in 1985) of the Single Market programme on the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour. Because of the single market, the Report could be more explicit and credible with regard to how best to achieve closer economic ties between the EU economies before the introduction of a single currency. Moreover, the Report was supported by a detailed description of an institutional set-up geared towards ensuring stability-oriented economic policies.
Notwithstanding the thorough work invested in the Delors Report, almost 10 years of convergence and technical preparations were required in order to ensure the successful implementation of the euro on 1 January 1999. And the project is still not over: the euro coins and banknotes will be introduced only in 2002 - 13 years after the presentation of the Delors Report and 32 years after the presentation of the Werner Report.
Achieving a credible currency
Today, almost two months after the introduction of the euro, we can say that the technical changeover to the euro was successful. Now, the Eurosystem (i.e. the ECB and the 11 national central banks of the participating Member States) must focus on ensuring the long-term success of the new currency. The credibility of a currency is built up by several factors, the basis of which is the central bank's commitment to price stability. Here, the Eurosystem is in the fortunate position of being assigned, through the Maastricht Treaty, the unambiguous primary objective of maintaining price stability in the euro area. Another fundamental building block of credibility is ensuring that monetary policy decisions are independent of political pressures. This building block was also laid down in the Maastricht Treaty, which ensures that the ECB and the participating national central banks enjoy a very high degree of independence, possibly more than any other central bank in the world.
The credibility of a currency also relies on the preparedness of governments to pursue stability-oriented policies of fiscal discipline and to undertake necessary structural reforms. On this point, the Stability and Growth Pact adopted by the EU countries provides a basic framework for fiscal discipline and should enhance the governments' incentive to proceed with structural reforms.
In order to enhance credibility, it is also important that the central bank's strategy for achieving the primary objective is clear and that the link between the strategy and the central bank's policy actions is easily understood by the public. By following a transparent approach, the central bank can directly improve the efficiency of monetary policy. This contributes to achieving stable prices with the lowest possible interest rates.
Striving towards increased transparency led the Governing Council of the ECB (composed of the Governors of the 11 national central banks and the six members of the ECB's Executive Board) to establish a precise definition of price stability in order to bring about absolute clarity as regards the primary objective; price stability was defined as a year-on-year increase of the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for the euro area of below 2%. This is a medium-term objective. In the short run, many factors beyond the scope of monetary policy also affect the price movements.
The adoption of the Eurosystem's monetary policy strategy also aimed at enhancing transparency in the implementation of monetary policy. The strategy is based on two key elements: First, money has been assigned a prominent role in the form of a reference value for the growth of the euro area wide monetary aggregate M3. Second, the Eurosystem carries out a broadly based assessment of the outlook for price developments and the risks to price stability in the euro area on the basis of a wide range of economic and financial indicators.
In order to explain to the public the Eurosystem's policy actions against the background of the adopted monetary policy strategy, the Eurosystem uses several channels: the ECB's Monthly Bulletin; the issuance of a detailed press release after each Governing Council meeting, in which the decisions are explained; the organisation of a monthly press conference at the ECB; the appearances of the President at the European Parliament; and, finally, the numerous speeches and articles by the members of the Governing Council. Taken as a whole, the Eurosystem is probably among the more active central banks when it comes to explaining its policies to the public.
A further important building block in order to establish credibility is the promotion of an efficient implementation of the monetary policy decisions. The Eurosystem has aimed to set up an operational framework which is consistent with market principles and which ensures equal treatment of counterparties and financial systems across the euro area. The Eurosystem's operational framework is based on the principle of decentralisation in order to take advantage of the established links between the national central banks and their counterparties. The monetary policy operations will therefore be conducted by the national central banks, while decisions are taken centrally in the ECB's decision-making bodies.
The consequences of a single currency: perspectives for the future
The most important effects of the single currency relate to the possibility of improving macroeconomic stability and credibility for the policies pursued; these effects are particularly important for the smaller European economies. Moreover, important benefits can be derived from microeconomic factors, such as lower transaction costs, wider and deeper financial markets, improved price transparency and increased competition.
Starting with the macroeconomic factors, Monetary Union makes it possible for the participating countries to combine their credibility. In this way, small countries can, to a certain extent, "borrow" credibility from some of the large countries which have pursued stability-oriented policies for a long time. Under credible conditions, the financial markets are no longer under pressure from speculative attacks by large institutional investors. Price and interest rate developments are stabilised, and the investment climate for companies is secured. In the microeconomic field, the most obvious consequences relate to lower transaction costs and increased price transparency across national borders. These factors are likely to contribute to increased competition and downward price pressure on many products.
One very important consequence is that the use of a single currency will give rise to larger and more competitive financial markets in the euro area. In most European countries, the financial markets have, by tradition, been rather shallow, with few participants and a rather narrow set of financial instruments on offer. A high degree of segmentation and a lack of cross-border competition have implied relatively low trading volumes, high transaction costs and a reluctance to implement innovative financial instruments.
On the introduction of the euro, the foreign exchange risk of trading in the different national markets in the euro area fully disappeared. This has triggered increasing cross-border competition and has provided an incentive for the harmonisation of market practices. In fact, the trading of money market paper and euro area government bonds can already be considered to be largely integrated. The markets for private bonds are still segmented owing to the differing institutional and regulatory conditions across Member States, but they, too, will gradually integrate and provide an incentive for increasing the issuance volumes of private bonds. This will contribute to reducing the financing costs for private companies, and it will provide improved opportunities for investors.
Monetary Union provides much needed assurance of exchange rate stability for exporters, importers and investors. This is particularly important for small and open economies. In fact, most countries in Europe are to be considered small in the current global perspective. The active use of the exchange rate as a tool of economic policy could be an alternative for a large reserve-currency country. For a small country, experience has shown that large changes in the exchange rate tend to give rise to higher costs rather than benefits, due to the harmful effects on expectations and higher interest rates.
Some of the economic effects of the Monetary Union may partially benefit also the countries remaining outside Monetary Union. Nevertheless, it is important for the "out" countries, to assess whether they find that the benefits of maintaining a national monetary policy "autonomy" - if there is any such autonomy in an integrated and globalised market situation - outweigh the possible drawbacks of not being able to fully draw on the credibility of the euro area, the integration of the euro area financial markets, lower transaction costs, improved price transparency and increased competition.
The euro and the Nordic countries
The Nordic countries have chosen to organise their monetary policy ties to the euro area in very different ways: Finland is the only Nordic country taking part in Monetary Union as from the start of Stage Three; Denmark negotiated an opt-out from Monetary Union but follows a fixed exchange rate policy vis-а-vis the euro within the new Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II); Sweden decided not to participate in Monetary Union from the start of Stage Three, without having a formal opt-out and the Swedish krona still floats freely against the euro; and Norway and Iceland remain outside the EU altogether.
The divergent approaches taken by the Nordic countries as regards one of the most important economic and political projects in Europe in modern times are somewhat strange in view of their traditionally close cultural, historical, political and economic ties. Nordic co-operation has always been very important and close. I note with satisfaction that the public opinions in Denmark and Sweden now seem to be swinging in a more favourable direction with regard to future membership. Maybe the successful implementation of the euro has made the public understand that Monetary Union is aimed at ensuring long-term stability in Europe. In this context, the recent signals from the Government of the United Kingdom in favour of membership in the Monetary Union are also very encouraging.
Personally, I think that it would be beneficial to all Nordic countries - and the United Kingdom - to join Monetary Union within the not too distant future. I hope that Sweden and Denmark can become members already before the introduction of the euro banknotes and coins in 2002.
It is important for these countries to also assess the political aspects of remaining outside Monetary Union. Experience has shown that EU Member States which have taken initiatives and worked constructively towards European integration have been generally more successful in gaining influence than those less committed to the project. In this respect, it should be noted that the aim of the Maastricht Treaty is clearly to establish a Monetary Union comprising all EU Member States.
Personally, I also think that the Nordic countries could provide a fruitful joint contribution to the long-term success of Monetary Union. There is no need to overemphasise the role of small countries in this process, but it is clear that co-ordinated views by a group of small countries would have a larger influence than the views of individual countries. One of the benefits of the Nordic countries - and small countries in general - is that they are seldom bound to their old traditional system. In contrast, they typically fight for efficient solutions which would be in the interest of the whole of the euro area.
The project to establish European Economic and Monetary Union was carefully prepared and based on very strong political commitment. It has contributed to the co-ordination of economic policies - even in a wider sense - in an environment of deregulated financial markets and the free flow of capital. The stability arguments behind the introduction of the euro have been so well accepted that we are already seeing serious and visible efforts aimed at the next step towards a global "single currency" through the establishment of exchange rate co-ordination between the euro, the US dollar and the Japanese yen. In order for any such world-wide currency co-ordination to become successful, there would be a need for political commitment to globally harmonising fiscal, monetary and structural policies. In this context, I would advise realism, caution and a gradual approach in spite of the longer-term ideal goal of global stability. There are still many challenges and adjustments ahead within the euro area before any world-wide steps should be considered. Our first priority is to ensure long-term stability in the euro area economies under the single monetary policy and on the hope that the euro area will soon cover all EU countries.
Eurosystem: new challenges for old missions
Inaugural Lecture by Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa,
Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank,
on the occasion of his appointment as
honorary Professor of Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universitдt,
Frankfurt am Main, 15 April 1999
Table of contents
2. Policy missions
3. New challenges
4. Making the eurosystem a central bank
5. Dealing with the European unemployment
6. Managing financial transformations
7. Coping with a lack of political union
I participate in this Dies Academicus, at the University that carries the name of Goethe, in the town of Frankfurt, in the first year of the euro, with thoughts and emotions that are hard to conceal.
In my early youth, at the time of the decisions that determine one's life, the dearest of my Gymnasium teachers told me: "You have to resolve, in order to decide your future, the dilemma of what interests you most: whether to understand or to change the world." My choice has been Economics. And, the subject of economics being human action, I early discounted that the call for action would prevail, in my motivations, over the enquiring spirit. I did not expect how strongly that dilemma would continue to accompany my life. More importantly, I did not understand, at the time, how much acting and enquiring are complementary ways of being in the world and searching for truth, as Goethe's work and life so profoundly witness. Science changes reality; practical activity not supported by reflection and analysis is ineffective and even harmful.
If I now live in Frankfurt and am here today it is because most of my professional life was spent in an institution - the Banca d'Italia - where eminent persons like Guido Carli, Paolo Baffi and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi allowed the dilemma of my early years being kept somewhat unresolved and favoured independent analysis as a complement of practical activity. They also shared and encouraged the combination of enquiry and action that helped the euro to become a reality. To them I therefore dedicate this lecture.
Academia is the place where teaching and enquiring reinforce each other by going hand in hand. It originates from Socrates' precept that "the wisest recognises that he is in truth of no account in respect to wisdom". Teaching is assertive, enquiring interrogative. One is based on the presumption that we have answers to transmit; the other is based on the modesty imposed by unresolved questions.
The mode of the following remarks will be the interrogative, rather than the assertive one. Not only because presumption is certainly not my йtat d'esprit today, but, more importantly, because the theme of this lecture - the new challenges posed by the advent of the euro - has a distinctly intellectual dimension, not only a practical one. The success of EMU will largely depend on the ability to identify new problems at an early stage and to analyse them without prejudice. While the mission entrusted to central bankers is not new, the challenges in the years to come may indeed differ from those of the last few decades. They may be "new" either because they have not been experienced before, or because they have acquired a new dimension.
In reviewing what I consider to be, for the Eurosystem, the most important of such challenges, I shall use the academic privilege of taking a free and forward-looking perspective. My point of view will, therefore, not necessarily coincide with that of my institution. Moreover, I shall not be objective, because I shall mainly draw on the intellectual and practical experiences that have constituted my professional life.
2. POLICY MISSIONS
Policy missions have not been altered by the start of the euro. They correspond to aspects of the public interest that were not redefined, and did not need a redefinition, because of the euro.
In the field of central banking the public interest is to provide economic activity with a medium of exchange that preserves its value over time. In the broader field of economic policy - of which monetary policy is part - the public interest is, to use words from the Maastricht Treaty that can be similarly found in most national constitutions and legislation, "to promote economic and social progress which is balanced and sustainable" (Article B). In the field of European integration, the mission is that of "creating an ever closer union among the people of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen" (Article A). Finally, in the field of international relations the public interest is to "maintain international peace and security" (UN Charter Article 1.1) as well as to "contribute to the promotion and maintenance of high level of employment and real income" (Articles of Agreement of the IMF, Article 1.ii).
The formulation of these policy missions has taken shape over the course of this century, or even earlier, on the basis of experience, scholarly investigation, political debate and action. There would be no consensus about the primary mission of the central bank if countries had not experienced first hyperinflation and then successful monetary management by a stability-oriented and independent central bank. Social progress and economic growth would not be on the agenda of governments without the labour movement and the Great Depression. We would not have the EU Treaties and the Charter of the UN without the tragedy of two World Wars.
Economists have explored the scope for economic policy action, and the limits thereof, in the monetary, fiscal and regulatory fields. Without thirty years of academic debate about the role of monetary policy, the EMU Treaty and the Statute of the ESCB/ECB would not have been written the way they were. The subordination of economic policies to the principle of "an open market economy with free competition" would not have been explicitly inserted in the Maastricht Treaty (Article 3A) had those principles not gained recognition in the community of scholars.
Central bankers (most notably in the Delors Committee) have prepared the blueprint for the single currency. International and constitutional lawyers have elaborated the legal concepts and studied the procedures to carry out the policy missions. They have built that legal monument that is the Rome/Maastricht Treaty. Citizens and politicians have discussed, promoted and implemented the whole process.
Different policies carry different degrees of compulsion and effectiveness. In general, instruments are more strongly framed when they are entrusted to institutions whose area of jurisdiction coincides with that of the nation state. Strongly framed instruments, however, do not necessarily produce strong results. Tough regulation against air pollution adopted only by a small country is less effective, for that same country, than softer regulation adopted by a larger group of countries. The economic literature about externalities, or that about optimal currency areas, are seminal examples of the contribution economic research can make in this respect.
In the following I shall focus on the mission of the central banker, because this is the function assigned to me. I am convinced, however, that the missions I mentioned are fundamentally complementary. Different assignments are part of an orderly division of labour. In a democratic and market-oriented environment not only citizens, but also officials, can consider the aims of the various policy bodies and charters - national and international - to which they refer as forming a consistent configuration. I regard this as a special privilege of the time and space in which I have lived so far.
3. NEW CHALLENGES
In the last thirty years central bankers have fought for two objectives: the recognition of the primacy of price stability for monetary policy, and the independence of the central bank. This has been the period in which the combination of political democracy and fiduciary currency made the governance of money particularly difficult in many countries.
The intellectual recognition, then the political acceptance and finally the actual implementation of a monetary constitution based on price stability and central bank independence have required a long process. The academic profession has contributed to it in a powerful way, from Irving Fisher to Don Patinkin to Robert Lucas. Even those who have denied the need of having a central bank, like Milton Friedman and Friedrich A. von Hayek, have in the end contributed to clarify its role and function. No less persuasive have been the arguments of experience. In a positive sense, the economic success of the country - Germany - where the two elements had been introduced at an early stage. In a negative sense, the social evil of high and prolonged inflation suffered by many other countries, including my own.
In legal and institutional terms, the result of this long fight has been engraved in the Treaty of Maastricht. The Treaty represents the strongest monetary constitution ever written, not only because of its substance, but also because the procedure to amend it is more difficult than that required for the charter of any existing central bank. Largely induced by Maastricht and EMU is also the independent status of national central banks in the European Union. We should indeed not forget that, until recently, key decisions in the field of monetary policy were still in the hands of the Treasury in such countries as the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain. The Maastricht process has been the catalyst for monetary reforms central bankers had advocated for years.
Partly, but not exclusively, because of this process, the conditions under which the single currency has come to life differ from those prevailing in the past years.
Prices have for some time now shown the highest degree of stability seen for more than thirty years. Most countries have made significant progress towards fiscal consolidation. The consensus on sound principles of budgetary and monetary management is broader and stronger, among both politicians and ordinary people, than in any other period the present generation can remember. Few dispute in an open way the now widely used expression "culture of stability".
However, when in 1981 it was decided to save the last specimen of the smallpox virus in a laboratory for the sake of documentation, health had not ceased to be in danger. Similarly, none of these achievements can be considered as permanent and central bankers should primarily strive to preserve them. To this end, detecting new challenges at an early stage is essential. The question is: where do the problems come from? What are the circumstances under which the "old mission" will have to be accomplished in the coming years? What threatens our health besides smallpox?
4. MAKING THE EUROSYSTEM A CENTRAL BANK
The first challenge consists in making the Eurosystem a central bank. It may seem simple, but is not. Let me start my explanation from the two key words of this proposition.
Eurosystem is the word chosen by the ECB to indicate the "ECB+11 participating national central banks", i.e. the central bank of the euro. The Treaty has no name for this key entity, while it refers extensively to the ESCB (European System of Central Banks) formed by the ECB and the 15 European national central banks). However, as long as there are "out" countries, the ESCB in its full composition will remain a scarcely relevant entity because it neither refers to a single currency area nor has any policy competence. Instead, the word Eurosystem indicates clearly the articulated entity which is for the euro what the Federal Reserve System is for the dollar.
Central bank is the institution in charge of the public interests associated with the currency. It originates from fundamental changes in the technology of payments: the adoption of banknotes, cheques and giros, and their final disconnection from gold. These changes have shaped the two other functions that most central banks have derived from the original payment system function: monetary policy and banking supervision. Man-made money made monetary policy possible. Commercial bank money made banking supervision necessary.
These three functions have most often been entrusted to the same institution because they are inextricably linked. Just as money has the interrelated roles of means of payment, unit of account and store of value, so central banking has a triadic function that refers to the three roles of money. Operating and supervising the payment system refers to money as a means of payment; ensuring price stability refers to money as a unit of account and a store of value; pursuing the stability of banks refers to money as a means of payment and a store of value. The function remains triadic (albeit, in my view, in a less satisfactory way) even where prudential control is entrusted to a separate agency. I am referring to the special "supervision" any central bank has over its banking community, necessitated by the fact that banks are the primary creators of money, providers of payment services, managers of the stock of savings and counterparties of central bank operations.
In performing its triadic function the central bank exerts operational and regulatory powers, interacts with other public authorities and the financial community, entertains relations with other central banks, participates in international debates and negotiations about monetary and financial matters. In all these activities it pursues and represents the public interest of a sound currency; all are instrumental to that interest. From the point of view of the perceptions of people and markets all such activities refer to that same public good that we call confidence.
For the Eurosystem the challenge is to rise to a full central banking role as just defined. It is necessary because of the links that bind the various functions of money. The Eurosystem would find it hard to play effectively its most delicate role - the pursuit of a stable currency or, as the German Constitution puts it, "die Wдhrung zu sichern" - if it appeared as an inexplicable exception to the classic paradigm of a central bank. The public, the markets, the international institutions and fora would not understand.
But it is also difficult, because the steps to take are multiple and complex from both a conceptual and a practical point of view. Moreover, they cannot all be taken at once. Let me briefly explain.
In the articulation of any federal constitution (Bund, Land and local, to use the German terminology) the central bank undoubtedly belongs to the level of the "federation", or Bund. The fact that important activities are conducted by "local" components of the system (Landeszentralbanken, or Federal Reserve District Banks) is an organisational feature that does not impinge upon the constitutional position of the central bank. The same happens within Monetary Union. The Eurosystem is the central bank of the euro area, even though operations are carried out - to the extent possible and appropriate - through its component parts, the NCBs. Indeed, the constitutional and the organisational profile of the institution are not in contradiction.
Although a federal and decentralised central bank is not a novelty, the Eurosystem is a special case. It is the central bank of an economy that has a much deeper national segmentation than any other currency area. Its components have for many generations (and until few weeks ago) performed the full range of central banking functions under their own responsibility and in a national context. They have been accountable to, and sometimes dependent on, national institutions. Public opinion has perceived, and still perceives, them as national entities. The notion of the public interest they were referring to was the notion of a national interest. Significant differences existed, and partly remain, in their tasks, organisations, statutes and cultures.
In this situation, making the Eurosystem a central bank requires drawing the appropriate distinction between being national in the organisational sense and being euro area-wide in the definition of the public interest pursued. This is a difficult distinction to draw in conceptual terms, not only in practical terms or from the point of view of personal attitudes.
In the preparatory discussions and negotiations that led to the Maastricht Treaty, central banks took the view that monetary functions are indivisible and that, contrary to the fiscal field, subsidiarity cannot apply to the monetary field. Their traditional and strongly held position has been that the public interest assigned to central bank is a whole which cannot easily be decomposed. Indeed, while there is a fairly well developed theory of fiscal federalism, there is no equivalent for the monetary field.
As I said, I do think that the functions of a central bank constitute a whole that cannot be split. This does not exclude that the Eurosystem should avoid seeking more uniformity than necessary and that some diversity is a positive factor and has always been valued as an aspect of the richness of Europe. Perhaps even a limited degree of internal competition may be used as an incentive to good performance. But can the Eurosystem depart from the two historical models of the Federal Reserve System and the Bundesbank? What are, in conceptual terms, the criteria of what I just called the "appropriate distinction"? What should be the touchstone?
It would be an illusion, I think, to expect or pretend to have a full and satisfactory answer solely from legal interpretation. And it would be unfortunate if the Eurosystem were to fall into the trap of the narrowly legalistic approach that paralyses international organisations. The Eurosystem is not an international organisation, its model is not the Articles of Agreement of the IMF. Of course, the answer will have to comply with the Treaty, which provides useful guidance. However, the system is entrusted to decision-making bodies that are composed not of lawyers, but of central bankers. They carry the primary responsibility to manage the euro and are accountable for that responsibility. They have known for years what a central bank is and how vague the wordings of central bank statutes have historically been. Their touchstone can only be, in the end, the effectiveness in the accomplishment of the basic mission embodied in the triadic paradigm of central banking functions.
5. DEALING WITH EUROPEAN UNEMPLOYMENT
The second challenge comes from the high level of unemployment in Europe.
Every economist, observer or policy-maker would probably agree that the most serious problem for the European economy, today and in the years to come, is high unemployment. In large parts of continental Europe the economic system just seems to have lost the ability to create new jobs.
Also on the nature and causes of European unemployment there is a large degree of agreement, as there was agreement on the nature and causes of European inflation well before price stability was finally restored in the 1990s. The key words describing such agreement are structural factors and flexibility. There is agreement that perverse incentives, direct and indirect taxation of labour, unsustainable pension schemes, overly tight employment rules and rigidities throughout the economy are the main obstacles to the creation of new jobs. There is agreement that the typically European welfare state system should be profoundly corrected, but not suppressed. Many also think that rather than following a "Thatcherian" policy of cracking down on the trade unions, it would be preferable to work with, rather than against, the labour organisations, although reform entails occasional confrontations.
As with inflation in the 1970s and 1980s, so unemployment in the 1990s - while being a European disease - is quite diversified across European countries and regions, due to differences in both policies and economic situations. It is over or around 20 per cent in the Mezzogiorno and Sachsen-Anhalt, but below 7 per cent in Lombardy and Baden-Wьrttemberg; over 18 per cent in Spain, but less than 4 in the Netherlands.
Notwithstanding the intergovernmental debates at a European level and the stated intention to undertake common initiatives, the instruments of employment policy remain in national hands, although only partly in the hands of governments. I regard this as appropriate because competition should not be suppressed from the labour market.
Adopting the appropriate policies of structural reform has proved extremely difficult in many key European countries, including my own and this one. Other countries, such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, have been more successful. Even the most successful experiences, however, have shown that reducing unemployment is a long and gradual process. Although some countries started labour market reforms in the early 1980s, they only reaped the benefits in the 1990s.
Unemployment will thus remain with us in the years to come and I am convinced that it should be regarded as the greatest policy challenge not only by governments and labour organisations, but by the Eurosystem as well. Let me explain why.
An economy in which unemployment drags above 10 per cent for years is a sick economy, just like one in which public finances or inflation are chronically destroying savings. To operate in a sick economy is always a risk for the central bank and for the successful fulfilment of its primary mission. In the case of prolonged unemployment, the risk arises both on a functional and an institutional ground.
On a functional ground, i.e. from the point of view of the relationship between economic variables that models usually consider, a chronically weak economy is one in which expectations deteriorate, investments stagnate, consumption declines. Structural unemployment may increase the risk of a deflationary spiral because a longer expected duration of unemployment may imply that households respond more conservatively (in terms of increasing savings) in the face of a deflationary shock. Today, we see no signs of deflation. Markets and observers who pay attention to communications by the Eurosystem know that the monetary policy strategy of the euro area is symmetrical, equally attentive to inflation and deflation. Thus, they know that if that risk became reality, the Eurosystem would have to act, and would act. But we know that monetary policy is much less effective in countering deflation than it is in countering inflation.
A more insidious threat, however, may arise on the institutional ground. It comes from a chain of causation involving social attitudes, economic theory and policy, actual economic developments and institutional arrangements. Attitudes of society respond to economic situations and policies, which in turn depend on the state of development of economics. Institutions, on their part, are influenced by attitudes of society. Both the course of economic thought and the practice of policy were lastingly altered by the Great Depression. The epitome of this historical event was the Keynesian revolution. In many countries the strong consensus about the primacy of price stability and the independence of the central bank was the outcome of the prolonged inflation suffered in the 1970s and 1980s. Here in Germany, it is rooted in the experience of hyperinflation. Would such a consensus survive if high unemployment remained a chronic feature of key European economies for many more years? And how would the position of the central bank change if that consensus faltered?
As central bankers primarily concerned with price stability, what can we do to cope with this challenge and to reduce the risks? My answer may seem disappointingly partial, as I do not think there is a miraculous medicine that monetary policy can provide. I would phrase it as follows.
Firstly, the central banker should be aware of the danger. He should know that in the future his principal objective may not receive, from the public, governments and parliaments the same strong support which has been the outcome of the two decades of high inflation. Since unemployment is what concerns the voters and the youngsters most, it may be increasingly necessary for him to play an educational role in explaining the benefits of a stable currency to those who have not directly experienced the costs of inflation. This is very much like the case of the post-war generations in Europe which, being fortunate enough not to experience the horror of World War II, need now to be reminded about the human costs of that terrible conflict.
Secondly, the central banker should avoid mistakes. It may seem obvious, but he should never forget that independence does not mean infallibility and that the likely new environment will offer no forgiveness for mistakes. A mistake would be the attempt to provide a substitute for the lack of structural policies by providing unnecessary monetary stimulus: it is not because the right medicine is neither supplied by the pharmacist nor demanded by the patient that the wrong medicine becomes effective. Another mistake would be to give the impression that the central bank has a ceiling in mind for growth, rather than for inflation. On the contrary, the central bank should make it clear that any rate of non-inflationary growth is welcomed and would be accommodated, the higher the better.
Technically, this will not be an easy task. The analytical uncertainty surrounding estimates of potential output and its growth rate might lead the central banker to respond quite cautiously to evidence of shifts in the rate of non-inflationary growth. While such caution is certainly optimal from an inflation stabilisation point of view, it might be wrongly interpreted as a systematic deflationary bias by the public and the politicians. This is a clear case in which any progress made by scholars in refining the analytical tools of the economic profession will greatly help the central banker to achieve his goals without imposing unnecessary costs on society at large.
On the whole, however, it is part of the central banker's role to make the day-by-day decisions that, in the end, constitute monetary policy. This responsibility can be neither transferred to, nor challenged by, policy makers responsible for other areas. Last week, the Eurosystem has made, for the first time in its life, an affirmative monetary policy decision by lowering its official rates. In this way, the Eurosystem has acted in line with its monetary policy strategy and made a significant contribution towards an economic environment in which the considerable growth potential of the euro area can be exploited in full. It is now the responsibility of other sectors of economic policy making to do their part by strictly adhering to the Stability and Growth Pact and implementing decisive structural reforms.
6. MANAGING FINANCIAL TRANSFORMATIONS
The third challenge consists in accompanying and surveying the rapid changes the European financial institutions and markets are undergoing, and will continue to undergo over the coming years, partly - but not exclusively - as a consequence of the euro.
It is sufficient to observe the US Federal Reserve System to understand the role the Eurosystem should play in the coming years: attention in monitoring changes in the financial system, active participation in the policy debate caused by such change, intense dialogue with both the Administration and Congress, influence exerted on opinions and decisions.
To a large extent the factors of change are technology determined, hence independent of the euro and even not specifically European. Technology is the driving force of the transformation in banking and finance that modifies the traditional deposit loan structure of banks. Technology also reshapes dramatically the back office and the communication with customers, thus producing massive over-branching and over-staffing in traditional banks. Also the globalisation of finance comes primarily from the combination of data processing and telecommunications.
Other changes are specifically European. Since universal banking has historically prevailed in continental Europe, the change from an institution-based to a market-based financial system is particularly significant in this part of the world. Similarly, the development of financial conglomerates is more pronounced in Europe than in the United States or Japan. Typical of continental Europe are also the labour market rigidities that make the restructuring of banks so difficult and slow.
Finally, there are changes induced by the euro. The removal of currency specificity as a cause of national segmentation of the financial industry is causing a convulsive shake-up of both institutions and markets. Since the beginning of this year, about ten banks ranking near the top of their respective national lists have concluded or started merger operations in France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. In most European countries stock exchanges and other organised markets, which were legally and structurally organised as providers of a public service, have been transformed into profit-driven private institutions and are now in a process of rapid concentration. In the coming two or three years the number of banks will shrink, the largest banks will become much larger, few financial centres and market networks will replace the present one-country one-centre configuration.
In any national system the central bank would actively monitor and even guide the course of such a transformation. It would do so along with the various agencies responsible for financial supervision and competition policy, and with an involvement of the executive power itself. Although largely determined by business decisions, these developments indeed involve the public interest in various ways.
Surveying and accompanying a profound transformation of the financial industry would be a difficult task for any central bank. For the Eurosystem it will represent a daunting challenge because it will put to the test an unprecedented articulation of the policy functions that are called for. Let me briefly explain this assertion.
The institutional setting of the euro area establishes a double separation between central banking and other public functions. Firstly, a functional separation, whereby banking supervision is now assigned to institutions that - even when they are national central banks - no longer exert independent monetary policy functions. Of this separation we have many previous examples (Germany, Japan, Sweden, now the UK, etc.). Much newer is a second, geographical, separation, whereby - with only the partial exception of competition policy - the area of jurisdiction of central banking does not coincide with the area of jurisdiction of the other public functions involved (banking supervision, regulation of the securities market, etc.).
Experts, including academic people, have so far focused attention on lender-of-last-resort functions and suggested that the new setting would not be able to act effectively in a crisis. I have argued elsewhere why this criticism seems unjustified. Here, I would like to suggest that the real challenge could come, in my opinion, from tensions between the national and the euro area interest in the process of financial transformation.
The process of industry transformation will inevitably involve aspects that have traditionally been considered as sensitive by public authorities: suppression of jobs, location of facilities and headquarters. Financial transformation will also produce a hardening of competition and competition will be, to a considerable extent, one between national financial centers and industries, not only between individual banks or institutions. The propensity to defend national champions may prevail over the pursuit of efficiency. The risk for the Eurosystem to fall in the trap of an improper interplay between the EU and the national dimension of the public interest may become high. Like any central bank, the Eurosystem should be both active and neutral in the great transformation of "its" financial industry. The word "system" that is part of its own name refers, and should apply in practice, to the whole euro area.
7. COPING WITH A LACK OF POLITICAL UNION
The fourth challenge consists in coping with the lack of a political union. The relationship between monetary and political union and whether the latter should be a precondition for the former has been a central issue in the European debate well before the establishment of the Delors Committee in 1988. While I do think that there is a lack of political union and that this lack constitutes a serious challenge for the Eurosystem, I also think that the expression "lack of political union" is often used in an unclear way that blurs the issue. Let me thus first consider two meanings of this expression with which I do not concur.
First, I do not concur with the idea that there is no political union in Europe today. It is not because the content and the competence of the European Union are mainly economic, that its nature and historical role are not political. Even before the single currency, EU competence extended over virtually the whole Corpus Iuris of economic activity, from the establishment of "the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital" (the four freedoms proclaimed by Article 3 of the Treaty) to external economic relationships. To understand how very political these issues are, it should suffice to think about the place they take in the US political debate today, or have taken in the politics of our countries before the creation of the European Community. Moreover, the institutional architecture of the European Union is entirely that of a political system, not that of an international organisation based on intergovernmental co-operation: a legislative capacity that prevails over that of Member States, a judicial power, a directly elected Parliament.
Second, I do not concur with the idea that Monetary Union has developed outside the political process. Quite the contrary is true. The establishment of a single currency in the European Union has been achieved because of the strong political determination of elected governments over a full decade, from June 1988 to May 1998. It is significant that during that long period continuity has not been broken by repeated changes of political majority in virtually all countries except Germany. Technocrats, i.e. central bankers, have "only" played their role, crucial as it may be. They have provided expertise, from the drafting of the blueprint to the preparatory work for the actual start of the system. And, no less important, they have loyally accepted the limits of their role and recognised that the ultimate decisions have belonged to elected politicians. This is the meaning of the two statements of July 1988 and March 1998 with which the Bundesbank has defined its position at the beginning and the end of the crucial decade. "In der Beschrдnkung zeigt sich der Meister".
The establishment of a single currency is a strongly political event in its genesis and a profound social and cultural change in its nature. As economists and central bankers we pay limited attention to notes and coins because they are a minor and endogenous component of the money stock. For many politicians, however, Monetary Union meant little else than a common banknote. They saw, better than us, that for the people money has to do with the perception of the society to which they belong and, ultimately, with their culture. As such, money goes well beyond the economic sphere of human action. Indeed, the act whereby we accept to provide goods or services to an unknown person in exchange for pieces of paper that have no intrinsic value is perhaps the most significant and widespread testimony of the social contract that binds people. This is why coinage and money printing have always been a prerogative of the State.
Yet, for two main reasons it remains true that Europe has a lack of political union. First, the European Union is still not the ultimate provider of internal and external security, the two key functions that constitute the raison d'кtre of the modern State. Second, EU institutions still fail to comply with the key constitutional principles that constitute the heritage of western democracies: foundation of the legislative and executive functions on the popular vote, majority principle, equilibrium of powers.
Why does the lack of political union constitute a challenge for the Eurosystem? I would answer as follows.
In a period of less than thirty years money has abandoned both the anchors it has had since the earliest times: metal and the sovereign. It is true that central banks have struggled for years to free the printing press from the influence of the modern sovereign, as they struggled in the past to free it from the influence of private interests. It is equally true that the present status of the Eurosystem in the constellation of public powers is exceptionally favourable. However, only a superficial thinker could confuse independence with solitude and take the view that the lack of political union strengthens the position of the central bank and makes it freer to fulfil its mission.
The security on which a sound currency assesses its role cannot be provided exclusively by the central bank. It derives from a number of elements that only the State or, more broadly, a political union as previously defined, can provide. When we say that a currency is a "safe haven" we refer not only to the quality and credibility of its central bank, but to the solidity of the whole social, political and economic structure to which it belongs. And historical experience shows that when that structure appears to weaken, the currency weakens, irrespective of the actions of the central bank. A strong currency requires a strong economy and a strong polity, not only a competent central bank. The central bank is, and should remain, an institution with too limited a mission to replace the lack of a political union.
The problems posed by the coexistence of a single currency with a still unachieved political union will influence both practical and intellectual activity in the coming years. They will have implications for the central banker, the politician and, more generally, the citizen. For the politician the implication is that his political decision to move ahead with Monetary Union in advance of political union contains an implicit commitment to work for the completion of political union. The central banker should be aware of the special difficulties and responsibilities deriving from this anomalous condition. On the one hand he will have to cope with this situation and adapt his attitudes to a composite - EU and national - institutional architecture, one that lacks the simplicity he was used to and in which the Eurosystem now represents the most advanced supranational component. On the other he should be prepared for the further evolution of that same architecture. Finally, from the citizens that we all are, it will require a deeper reflection about the multiple "social contracts" he is part of, and the loyalties they entail.
I have been fortunate to operate in an environment in which no conflict has arisen between the central banking profession I have exercised for more than thirty years and the European conviction that, like many persons of my generation, I matured in my youth. Since the early '80s I have also been convinced that monetary union, i.e. a confluence of the two motives, was desirable and possible. At the same time, the challenges for the Eurosystem originate precisely from that confluence.
The challenges are not solely economic in their nature, nor can their features be captured by the functional relationships economists are most familiar with. Although partly related to economic factors, their features are in fact tied to the special institutional environment to which the Eurosystem now belongs. They derive from the tension between the completion of the union in the monetary field and the incompleteness of the overall construction. It is a tension because in that environment the notion of the public interest is no longer as simply and statically defined as it was when the Nation-State was an all-pervasive reality and the jurisdiction of the central bank coincided with its jurisdiction. Inevitably, this tension runs through the institutions of the European Union, the Eurosystem itself, and even our minds.
A challenge is a call to a difficult task; it entails the two notions of necessity and difficulty. The problems I have tried to describe are a challenge not only for practitioners, but also for the academic profession, because their solutions can hardly be found in a textbook and will only be invented if the creativity of practitioners will be supplemented with that of scholars.
Monetary policy in EMU
Prof. Otmar Issing
Member of the executive board of the European Central Bank
6 October 1998
On 1 January 1999, the curtain will rise on a world premiиre. For the first time in history, sovereign states will abandon their own currencies in favour of a common currency, and transfer their monetary policy sovereignty to a newly created supranational institution. This process is all the more unusual from a historical perspective because the national currencies involved are not being abolished because of their weakness. On the contrary, proof of a large measure of monetary stability is demanded as a precondition for participation.
The decision has been taken. The Euro will start on time. It must not - and it will not - fail. The European System of Central Banks (ESCB) will devote its best endeavours to making European Monetary Union (EMU) a success.
The French president recently called this unique project a "great collective adventure". As a central banker I am generally not in favour of "adventures" - but who would deny that there are risks and uncertainties in this enterprise? You should be reassured that at the European Central Bank (ECB), we have the necessary independence, instruments and tools to deal with these risks and uncertainties in a successful way. I will discuss some of these in a moment.
Moreover, when considering the uncertainties implied by the transition to Stage Three of EMU, we should not forget that Monetary Union will also reduce, or even eliminate, a number of risks. This has already been demonstrated, even before the actual introduction of the euro. Recent turmoil in international financial markets did not cause any significant disruption to exchange rates among currencies of the designated participants in Stage Three. This is a clear demonstration of the success of the EMU process.
Today, I will address the role of monetary policy in EMU.
First, I will make reference to the final goal of monetary policy - the maintenance of price stability.
Second, I will discuss some important issues relating to the design and implementation of the monetary policy strategy at the outset of Stage Three of Monetary Union; and
Finally, I will describe some features of the operational framework of the ESCB that have recently been finalised.
Let me begin by discussing the over-riding priority we attach to the maintenance of price stability.
2. The priority of price stability
The Treaty on European Union - the Maastricht Treaty - stipulates that the "primary objective of the ESCB shall be to maintain price stability". It was left to the ESCB to provide a quantitative definition of this primary objective. At the ECB's precursor, the European Monetary Institute (EMI), it was agreed that, in the interests of transparency and accountability, the ESCB's chosen operational definition of price stability should be announced publicly. This announcement would form an important element of the overall monetary policy strategy. Simply defining price stability leaves open the question of why price stability is desirable. As a central banker, the benefits of price stability appear self-evident. Any single argument in favour of price stability cannot comprehensively describe the benefits that it brings.
For instance, concerning the United States, Martin Feldstein has recently shown that, in combination with taxes and social contributions, even quite modest rates of inflation can cause considerable real economic losses. Research at the Bundesbank has produced similar results for Germany.
But elimination of the losses caused by this channel is only one illustrative example among the many benefits of price stability. The greatest contribution that the ESCB can make to the euro area's output and employment performance is to achieve and maintain the stability of prices. Stable prices are at the core of the 'stability culture' we are trying to create in Europe, a culture that is the foundation of sustainable and strong growth in the standard of living for Europe's citizens.
At the same time, the ESCB does not operate in a vacuum. Monetary policy needs to be supported by an appropriate fiscal policy and necessary structural reforms implemented at the national level if this 'stability culture' is to be built on solid and sustainable foundations. The private sector also has its part to play, notably by exercising wage moderation, given the high levels of structural unemployment in the euro area. Progress on all these dimensions is not only desirable, but also absolutely necessary. Monetary policy alone cannot ensure strong, non-inflationary growth and improved employment prospects throughout the euro area. However, only a monetary policy focussed closely on the achievement of price stability can lay the basis for these conditions.
Of course, that is not to say that the ESCB can, or should, ignore broader macroeconomic considerations. For instance, the threats posed by deflation in combination with nominal rigidities to the real economy have to be taken into account. In order to prevent any misunderstanding, let me be very clear: my discussion of deflation has to be seen in the context of the formulation of an optimal definition of price stability for the ESCB that takes into account deflationary dangers. These dangers certainly cannot be ruled out and our definition of price stability should reflect them. However, simply recalling the current rate of inflation in the euro area - 1.2% - shows that deflation is not an immediate concern for policy-makers.
While periodic and transitory falls in the price level may be normal, and should not give rise to major concerns, a prolonged deflation is clearly inconsistent with any meaningful definition of price stability. Moreover, since nominal interest rates cannot fall below zero, a prolonged deflation may render the interest rate policy of the central bank rather ineffective. What remains is out-right purchases of assets - both foreign and domestic.
Similarly, the ESCB cannot ignore the implications of nominal rigidities in wages and prices for the transmission mechanism of monetary policy. If we were to live long enough under a regime of stable prices, I would not exclude the possibility that wage and price setting behaviour would adapt, and nominal rigidities would finally disappear. This would reduce some of the potential output costs of fighting inflation, and thus increase the net long-run benefits of price stability. However, for the time being we may have to live with these rigidities and take their effects into account when deciding on our monetary policy strategy.
In this respect, the present situation is not easy for the ESCB. Unemployment in the euro area is currently very high.
However, in contrast to these persistently high levels of unemployment - which are largely structural in origin - the prospects for maintaining price stability are currently very encouraging. Inflation expectations and long-term interest rates in the euro area are at close to historical lows. Actual area-wide inflation is also very subdued.
The current low 'headline' rate of inflation has been moderated somewhat by recent falls in oil and commodity prices, themselves stemming, in part, from the economic and financial crises in Asia and, more recently, in Russia. However, this effect on inflation has been largely off-set by the impact of indirect tax rises in a number of participating countries, which have raised consumer prices for certain goods. All in all, the changed external environment contributes to an overall outlook of very subdued inflationary pressures.
In defining price stability, one might ideally refer to a conceptual measure of 'core' inflation that tries to isolate monetary effects on the price level - for which the ESCB is properly responsible - from such terms of trade or indirect tax shocks, over which it has little immediate control.
In our month-to-month communication with the public, 'core' measures of inflation may prove useful. But, in its preparatory work for Monetary Union, the EMI recognised that any sensible definition of price stability for the euro area would have to be based on a comprehensive and harmonised price measure. 'Core' measures of inflation typically exclude some items. They are unlikely to be comprehensive enough to satisfy the requirements of an index suitable for a sensible public definition. These considerations point to using the 'headline' measure of the harmonised index of consumer prices (or HICP) for the euro area in the definition of price stability.
Finally, the ESCB needs to build on the success of its constituent national central banks (NCBs) in reducing inflation and achieving price stability during the convergence process in Stage Two of EMU. Given the current generally benign inflation outlook in the euro area that is the product of these accomplishments, there is an understandable desire to 'lock-in' the current success in achieving price stability as well as the apparent credibility of monetary policy, and ensure continuity with existing central bank practice.
3. The importance of the monetary strategy for a successful start of European monetary policy
When price stability is defined using the principles just outlined, how should the ESCB proceed to maintain it? In achieving and maintaining price stability - the primary objective of the Treaty - the choice of monetary policy strategy is vital.
Within the ECB, a considerable amount of work on the monetary policy strategy has already been completed, building to a large extent on the substantial earlier preparatory work of the EMI. A high degree of consensus has been reached among the NCBs and within the ECB about the main outlines of the strategy - I will address some of these areas of agreement in a moment. The final decision has not yet been made. But you should be reassured that progress is being made at a good pace. I have no doubt that we will be in a position to announce the details of the ESCB's monetary policy strategy in good time, prior to the start of Stage Three.
Being a new institution, the European Central bank must be prepared to come under intense scrutiny right from the start. In particular, the international financial markets will monitor its every decision like hawks. Facing this environment in the run-up to Monetary Union, the ESCB must ensure that everything possible is done to make the launch of Stage Three as tension-free as is possible. Choosing and announcing an appropriate monetary strategy is crucial.
The monetary policy strategy is, in the first place, important for the internal decision-making process of the ESCB - how the Governing Council will decide on the appropriate monetary policy stance, given the economic environment. Above all, the ESCB strategy must lead to good - that is to say, timely and forward-looking - monetary policy decisions.
But the strategy is also of the utmost significance in communicating with audiences outside the ESCB. It should stabilise inflation expectations. The more the strategy helps to promote credibility and confidence in the ESCB's monetary policy at the outset of EMU, the more effective that policy will be - and the easier the ESCB's task of maintaining price stability will become.
In deciding upon the appropriate monetary policy strategy, the following aspects must be seen as essential requirements. The strategy must:
* reinforce the ESCB's commitment to price stability, the
primary and over-riding task stipulated by the Treaty;
* it must clearly signal the anti-inflationary objectives of
the ESCB, and serve as a consistent benchmark for the
monetary policy stance; and,
* it must be transparent and explained clearly to the general
public - only then can the strategy serve as a basis for the
ESCB's accountability to the public at large.
The realisation that achievement of an optimal, non-inflationary macroeconomic outcome may founder on the private sector's distrust has been central to the monetary policy debate of the nineteen-eighties and 'nineties. The search for answers to the questions raised by this debate has spawned an enormous economic literature. The keywords "time inconsistency" and "credibility" draw forth an almost unmanageable flood of publications that have appeared in the wake of the pioneering contributions of Kydland / Prescott and Barro / Gordon.
The need to establish a credible and consistent monetary strategy in the face of the well-known time inconsistency problem faced by policy makers - the dilemma highlighted by this economic literature - is especially important for the ESCB at the outset of Monetary Union. As a brand new institution, the ESCB will have no track record of its own.
Building its reputation, and the associated credibility of monetary policy, is vital. But the process of doing so is complicated by the relatively high level of uncertainty surrounding the transition to Monetary Union itself. The transition to Stage Three is a unique event, and will create unique opportunities for many - but it will also create some unique problems for monetary policy makers. At the ECB, we are addressing these problems and are confident that the risks can be managed successfully. Many of the difficulties we face will be overcome through our own efforts over the coming months.
Among these problems are the difficulties involved in creating a comprehensive and accurate database of euro area-wide statistics. Running a single monetary policy for the euro area requires timely, reliable and accurate euro area data. In some cases, the euro area statistics simply did not exist until quite recently. In others, the statistics are based on new concepts, and the properties of the data series are not yet well known. The long runs of high quality back-data required for empirical economic analysis may be unavailable. Those that do exist are likely to have been constructed using some degree of estimation and judgement, possibly rendering the econometric results produced with them questionable.
Furthermore, the regime shift associated with the adoption of the single monetary policy may change the way expectations are formed in the euro area, and thereby alter forward-looking economic behaviour. Monetary policy's effects on consumption, investment, and wage bargaining - and therefore the whole transmission mechanism of monetary policy to developments in the price level - would be among the important economic relationships to be affected in this way.
This may be no bad thing. Indeed, using the regime shift implied by the transition to Stage Three to change both public and private sector behaviour in favourable directions may be one of the largest gains that the euro area can extract from Monetary Union. Nevertheless, these changes are likely to complicate the implementation of certain important elements of a monetary strategy, at least in the short term, as past relationships between macroeconomic variables may break down. What is good for the euro area economy as a whole may create some practical problems for the ESCB.
One example of this so-called 'Lucas critique' phenomenon is the impact of current, very low rates of inflation on private behaviour. For many countries participating in Monetary Union, there is simply no - or only very recent - experience of how the private sector will behave in an environment of sustained and credible low inflation. Instability in past relationships may result, should behaviour change in this new, low inflation environment. I have already argued that these structural changes will benefit Europe's citizens - price stability will allow markets to work more efficiently, thereby raising growth, and improving employment prospects. But these changes may also complicate the ESCB's assessment of economic and financial conditions.
These uncertainties - arising directly from the transition to Stage Three itself - are both compounded by, and inter-related with, the broader economic context in which Monetary Union will be established. The increasing internationalisation of the global economy, and the current rapid pace of technological change, have affected all sectors of the economy, and the banking and financial systems in particular. For example, at present there are many, inter-related innovations in the payments system, such as:
* the introduction of TARGET (directly related to EMU itself);
* greater technological sophistication of payments mechanisms,
as use of computers and information technology becomes more
widespread and advanced;
* the additional incentive for cash-less payments that may
arise from the fact that for some time to come -
approximately three years - the new euro-denominated notes
and coin will not come into circulation. In particular,
narrow monetary aggregates might be affected by this
* increased competition among banks and settlements systems,
arising from globalisation and the breakdown of barriers
between previously segmented national markets, which may
drive down the margins and fees charged to customers.
At the ESCB we will need to keep abreast of these developments, both for their immediate impact on one of our "basic tasks" - promoting the smooth operation of the payments system - and because of their broader implications for the euro area economy. Reducing transactions costs in the way I just described will benefit European consumers and producers - but it may also change the indicator properties of monetary, financial and economic variables that national central banks have looked to as guides for monetary policy in the past.
Finally, in Monetary Union there will be some heterogeneity across countries within the euro area. Europe's diversity is one of its greatest assets. But this diversity is greater than is typically the case between different regions in the same country using a single currency. Nevertheless, the ECB Governing Council will have to concentrate on monetary and economic developments in the euro area as a whole when discussing and taking monetary policy decisions.
How should a monetary policy strategy be selected in this - for monetary policy makers, at least - potentially difficult environment? The EMI outlined a number of 'guiding principles' for the selection of a monetary strategy by the ESCB. Foremost amongst these was the principle of 'effectiveness'. The best monetary policy strategy for the ESCB is the one which best signals a credible and realistic commitment to, and ensures achievement of, the primary objective of price stability.
For many commentators, this criterion points unambiguously in the direction of so-called 'direct inflation targeting'. If monetary strategies are to be judged according to how well they achieve price stability, defined as a low rate of measured inflation, then advocates of inflation targets argue an optimal strategy would surely target this low inflation rate directly. These commentators would place explicit quantitative targets for inflation itself at the centre of the ESCB's monetary policy strategy. Their approach has been strongly endorsed in some academic and central banking circles.
But, in the current circumstances, a pure 'direct inflation targeting' strategy is too simplistic for the ESCB, and possibly even mis-conceived. The ESCB well understands the primacy of price developments and price stability for monetary policy making. Indeed, the Treaty's mandate is unambiguous in this respect. We will signal our intentions on this dimension very clearly by making a transparent public announcement of our definition of price stability. The current low level of long-term nominal interest rates in the euro area suggests that the financial markets, at least, understand and believe the over-riding priority that we attach to achieving price stability.
Regarding strategy, our choice therefore need not be governed solely by a desire to signal our intent to maintain price stability. This has already been well-established - by the Treaty, and by the success of the convergence process in reducing inflation in Europe to its current low level. Rather than signalling our intent, the strategy must constitute a practical guide that ensures monetary policy is effective in achieving the goal we have been set.
In this respect, there are considerable problems with using inflation itself as the direct target within the ESCB's overall strategy. Because of the well-known lags in the transmission mechanism of monetary policy to the economy in general, and the price level in particular, it is impossible for a central bank to control inflation directly. Therefore, 'inflation targeting' in practice means 'inflation forecast targeting' where central banks set monetary policy to keep their best forecast of inflation at the target level deemed consistent with price stability.
But recognition of this need for forecasts in an inflation targeting strategy immediately raises practical difficulties. In the uncertain environment likely to exist at the outset of Monetary Union, forecasting inflation will be very difficult, not least for the conceptual, empirical and practical reasons I outlined a moment ago. Forecasting models estimated using historic data may not offer a reliable guide to the behaviour of the euro area economy under Monetary Union. Forecast uncertainty is likely to be relatively large, possibly rendering the whole inflation targeting strategy ineffective.
To address these uncertainties, a large element of judgement would have to be introduced into the forecasting process, in order to allow for the regime shifts and structural and institutional changes that are a seemingly inevitable consequence of EMU. Simply relying on historic relationships to forecast future developments is unlikely to prove accurate or effective. While introducing judgmental adjustments into forecasts in these circumstances would be both appropriate and necessary, such adjustments are likely to compromise the transparency of the inflation forecasts and, thus, of any inflation targeting strategy. Using judgement may prevent outside observers from readily assessing the reliability and robustness of the inflation forecasting procedures used by the ESCB.
I see a distinct bias in the academic discussion of the comparative advantages of inflation targeting and monetary targeting. With good reason, many arguments are presented against the ESCB adopting a monetary target. But proponents of inflation targeting seem to forget that, in the current context, most of these arguments could also be used against inflation targeting. Above all, I have not seen any attempt thus far - even if only a tentative one - to explain how the ESCB should deal with the specific difficulties involved in making an inflation forecast at the outset of Monetary Union that could be used as the centrepiece of an inflation targeting strategy.
In many respects, a strategy giving a prominent role to monetary aggregates has considerable advantages over direct inflation targeting. Monetary aggregates are published. They are clearly not subject to various kinds of 'judgmental manipulation' by policy makers or central bank staff that might be possible with inflation forecasts. To the extent that policy makers wish to depart from the signals offered by monetary growth because of 'special factors' or 'distortions' to the data - including those distortions arising from the transition to Monetary Union itself - they will have to do so in a public, clear and transparent manner.
Moreover, a strategy that assigns a prominent role to the monetary aggregates emphasises the responsibility of the ESCB for the monetary impulses to inflation, which a central bank can control more readily than inflation itself. These monetary impulses are the most important determinants of inflation in the medium term, while various other factors, such as terms of trade or indirect tax shocks, may influence the price level over shorter horizons.
In the light of these considerations, it was agreed at the EMI that, regardless of the final choice of the monetary policy strategy, monetary aggregates would be accorded a prominent role in the overall monetary framework adopted by the ESCB.
However, the EMI also noted that certain technical pre-conditions would have to be met before this 'prominent role' could be translated into an explicit, publicly announced monetary target, guideline, benchmark or monitoring range. Specifically, such targets or ranges would only be meaningful guides to monetary policy if the relationship between money and prices - as encapsulated in a 'demand for money' equation - was expected to remain sufficiently stable.
In this regard, several existing empirical studies point towards the stability of the demand for euro area-wide monetary aggregates. However, these studies are necessarily only preliminary. The reliability of these results in the face of the uncertainties raised by the transition to Stage Three is unknown. Future shifts in the velocity of money are certainly possible - perhaps even likely. They cannot be predicted with certainty. Moreover, it is not clear whether those aggregates that have the best results in terms of stability are sufficiently controllable in the short-term with the policy instruments available to the ESCB. In these circumstances, relying on a pure strategy of strict monetary targeting is simply too risky.
Against this background, the ESCB will have to design a monetary policy strategy of its own. The chosen strategy will show as much as possible continuity with the successful strategies that participating NCBs conducted in the Stage Two. At the same time the ESCB's strategy will take into account to the extent needed the unique situation created by the introduction of the euro.
4. The new monetary policy instruments and procedures for the euro area
Having a well-designed monetary strategy is vital. But we must also be able to implement it successfully at an operational level. What instruments are available to implement this strategy?
The ECB will have a complete set of monetary policy instruments at its disposal. These instruments have been selected on the basis of their efficiency for transmitting monetary policy and their neutrality across market participants.
Three types of instruments are available to the ESCB: open market operations, standing facilities and a minimum reserve system. I will briefly present these instruments in the remainder of my speech.
4.1 Open market operations
Open market operations include, first, a weekly main refinancing operation, which will take the form of a reverse repurchase transaction with a maturity of two weeks. The main refinancing operation will be based on a tender procedure. The tender may be a fixed rate tender, with counterparties bidding amounts, or a floating rate tender, where counterparties propose bids including both amounts and interest rates.
Second, there is the monthly longer term refinancing operation, which has a maturity of three months and will always take the form of an interest rate tender. This is because the ECB will avoid signalling its monetary policy stance through these particular operations.
The ECB will also conduct fine-tuning operations, through the national central banks of the euro area or, in exceptional circumstances, on its own account. Fine tuning operations will be conducted whenever liquidity or money market conditions warrant. Fine tuning operations may take the form of reverse repurchase transactions (that is, the same type of transaction as that used in the main refinancing and the longer term refinancing operations, but with no pre-set start date nor a pre-set maturity), foreign exchange swaps or the taking of fixed-term deposits. Fine tuning operations in the form of reverse repurchase operations may be executed either through quick tenders or bilaterally. In both cases, these operations will involve a limited set of eligible counterparties that have an appropriate track record of activity in the money market. The other types of fine tuning operations will also be executed with a limited number of eligible counterparties, which will be selected ex ante by the ECB. In some countries, there will be a rotation scheme, which will aim at giving the opportunity to all eligible fine tuning counterparties to participate in fine tuning operations.
Finally, open market operations may also be conducted whenever structural reasons, such as the longer-term evolution of liquidity profiles, warrant it. These so-called structural operations may take the form of outright purchases or sales of securities or the issuance of debt certificates by the ECB.
4.2 Standing facilities
The ECB will operate two overnight standing facilities, which will be available to all credit institutions at national central banks of the euro area, provided that, when using the marginal lending facility, they have sufficient collateral. The rate of the marginal lending facility will constitute the upper bound of collateralised overnight money market rates. The deposit facility will be remunerated at a rate that will constitute the lower bound of overnight money market rates.
When using the marginal lending facility, or, for that matter, when entering in liquidity-providing open market operations in the form of reverse transactions, counterparties have to post assets with their national central bank (or the ECB in the exceptional case when the ECB conducts fine tuning operations on its own account). These assets are meant to act as guarantees for credits received from the European System of Central Banks. A list of eligible assets has been drawn up for this purpose. The list comprises a wide variety of assets and has two sub-sets. First, the so-called tier one assets, which are selected by the ECB according to uniform criteria relating to their credit standing in the whole euro area. Second, the so-called tier two assets, which have been selected by the ECB because they are of particular importance for certain national banking systems of the euro area, in order to promote a certain degree of continuity at the start of the Stage Three of EMU. Two principles of equal treatment are applied, however. First, the credit standing of tier two assets is as high as that of tier one assets. Second, both tier one and tier two assets may be used by any credit institution in the euro area, irrespective of its location.
In addition, a set of risk control measures has been elaborated to ensure that, for any counterparty, the amount of assets provided is always sufficient. Risk control measures cover the assets' price and credit risks, taking account of the asset type, its characteristics and the maturity of the transaction. The ECB's risk control measures have been elaborated with careful attention to the best market practices in this area. They include the deduction of haircuts from the assets and the imposition of initial margins to the credit amount. Another feature of the risk control framework is the regular revaluations of the assets, which will, in most cases, take place daily and may trigger margin calls, most often to be settled through delivery of additional assets.
4.3 Minimum reserve system
The ECB will also apply a minimum reserve system to credit institutions of the euro area. Two main monetary policy objectives have been assigned to the minimum reserve system. The first objective is to stabilise money market interest rates through the averaging mechanism, whereby the fulfilment of minimum reserve requirements is based on average reserve holdings over monthly periods of time. During the maintenance period, this allows the banking system to absorb liquidity shocks. The reduced volatility of money market rates will reduce the need for frequent fine tuning operations, which will mean that markets are less distorted by central bank interventions than they would otherwise be. The second objective of the minimum reserve system is to enlarge the demand for central bank money, so as to enlarge the liquidity deficit of the banking system vis-а-vis the ESCB. This will safeguard the role of the European System of Central Banks as a provider of liquidity to the banking system.
Reserve requirements will be calculated by applying a reserve ratio of 1.5% to 2.5% to the deposits, debt securities and money market paper issued by credit institutions, except for residual maturities above two years. Although repurchase agreements are included in the reserve base, they will be subject to a zero reserve ratio. Inter-bank liabilities and liabilities vis-а-vis the ESCB will not be subject to reserve requirements. An allowance of the order of E 100,000 will be deducted from reserve requirements, so that credit institutions with a small reserve base will not have to hold minimum reserves.
Reserve holdings will be remunerated up to the required reserve level, at the rate of the main refinancing operation (as averaged over a month). It may be argued that a less than full remuneration of minimum reserves would increase the interest rate elasticity of central bank money demand. This notwithstanding, the ECB has decided in favour of a full remuneration of minimum reserves in view of the distortion to efficient markets that a less than full remuneration would have implied. As a result of the full remuneration of minimum reserves, the European Central Bank has also decided not to exempt any credit institution from the minimum reserve system.
The ECB will have many counterparties and be subject to close public scrutiny. It has therefore set up procedures for informing its counterparties and the public about its monetary policy instruments in a robust and transparent manner.
The ECB will inform its counterparties and the public through a document detailing its monetary policy instruments and procedures and through the regular publication of various materials on its Internet site.
The ECB has produced a document describing its monetary policy instruments and procedures in detail. This is called "General Documentation on ESCB Monetary Policy Instruments and Procedures". A revised version of this document was published recently. This revised version includes all the newly specified elements of the monetary policy framework of the ECB, including for instance the minimum reserve system. This document also includes a calendar for the standard tender operations in 1999 (both main refinancing and longer term refinancing operations). Calendars of standard tender operations will be published by the ECB every year.
Publications on the ECB's Internet site
The list of assets that are eligible as guarantees for liquidity providing operations will be made public on the Internet site of the ECB. The list will be updated on a weekly basis and users will be able to subscribe to an e-mailing facility for receiving certain designated parts of the list on a regular basis. Users will also be able to query the list, which will contain a large number of assets.
The list of institutions subject to minimum reserves, that is, credit institutions established in the euro area, will also be available on the Internet site of the ECB, together with the list of all monetary and financial institutions in the European Union.
5. Concluding remarks
We are less than three months away from the moment when monetary policy sovereignty is transferred from the NCBs to the ESCB. The bulk of the preparatory work has already been completed, but major decisions - above all, the choice of a monetary policy strategy - still have to be made. The public can be certain that we will always inform them, regularly and comprehensively, about our considerations and deliberations. We will make all our decisions transparent. I have no doubt that we will be well prepared for the moment at which we take over responsibility for monetary policy in the euro area.
The euro as an international currency
Speech delivered by Eugenio Domingo Solans,
Member of the Governing Council and the Executive Board of the
European Central Bank,
at The Athens Summit '99,
in Athens on 18 September 1999
Thank you for inviting me to the Athens Summit '99 and for giving me the opportunity to speak to you at this important event.
I should like to share with you my views, and the ECB's views, on the importance of the euro as an international currency. I understand that this issue may be of interest to experts from Greece, a "pre-in" country which intends to join the euro area, and to many participants from countries outside the euro area and the European Union, some of which currently have exchange rate regimes related to the euro.
Nowadays the euro is the second most widely used currency in the world economy, behind the US dollar and ahead of the Japanese yen. As we all know, any currency fulfils three basic functions: it is a store of value, a medium of exchange and a unit of account. As a store of value the use of the euro as an investment and financing currency is rapidly increasing, as investors understand the advisability of diversifying their portfolio currencies among those which are more stable and more internationally used. The euro is developing at a slower pace as a medium of exchange or payment currency in the international exchange of goods and services. This fact can easily be explained by the combined and reinforcing effects of network externalities and economies of scale in the use of a predominant international currency as a medium of exchange, as is the case with the US dollar. The use of the euro as a unit of account is linked to its use as a store of value and a medium of exchange. The value stored in euro or the payments made in euro will tend to be counted in euro.
There are good reasons to expect an increase in international public use of the euro as a reserve, intervention and pegging currency, inasmuch as the public authorities understand that it is worthwhile to allocate their foreign reserves among the main international currencies and to give the euro a relevant share in accordance with its internal and external stability and the economic and financial importance of the euro area.
In connection with the use of the euro as a pegging currency, approximately 30 countries outside the euro area currently have exchange rate regimes involving the euro to a greater or lesser extent. These exchange rate regimes are currency boards (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Estonia); currencies pegged to the euro (Cyprus, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and 14 African countries in which the CFA franc is the legal tender); currencies pegged to a basket of currencies including the euro, in some cases with a fluctuation band (Hungary, Iceland, Poland, Turkey, etc.); systems of managed floating in which the euro is used informally as the reference currency (Czech Republic, Slovak Republic and Slovenia); and, last but not least, European Union currencies pegged to the euro through a co-operative arrangement, namely ERM II. As you well know, Denmark and Greece joined ERM II on 1 January 1999 with a ±2.25% fluctuation band for the Danish krone and a ±15% fluctuation band for the Greek drachma. Although the euro remains in second position after the US dollar in terms of its official use, the role of the euro will increase in the future, without a doubt, especially after the year 2002 when the euro banknotes and coins will begin to circulate.
Taking the current situation as a starting point, the Eurosystem's position concerning the future international role of the euro is crystal clear: we shall not adopt a belligerent stance in order to force the use of the euro upon the world economy. We are convinced that the use of the euro as an international currency will come about anyway. It will happen spontaneously, slowly but inexorably, without any impulses other than those based on free will and the decisions of market participants, without any logic other than that of the market. In other words, the internationalisation of the euro is not a policy objective of the Eurosystem; it will neither be fostered nor hindered by us. The development of the euro as an international currency will be a market-driven process, a free process.
The euro fulfils the necessary conditions to be a leading international currency with the US dollar and not against it. There is enough room for both currencies in the world economy. The necessary conditions for a currency to become an international currency are based on two broad factors: low risk and large size. The low risk factor is related to the confidence inspired by the currency and its central bank, which in turn mainly depends on the internal and external stability of the currency. The low risk factor tends to lead to diversification among international currencies, since diversification is a means to reduce the overall risk; it acts, so to speak, as a centrifugal force. By contrast, the large size factor relates to the relative demographic economic and financial importance of the area which supports the currency; in other words, the "habitat" of the currency. The large size factor, which concerns the demographic, economic and financial dimension, generally tends to lead to centralisation around one or a few key international currencies. It can be seen as a centripetal force, as a virtuous circle, which will tend to lead to an increasing use of the euro as an international currency. Let us consider these two factors in more detail.
The first factor concerns low risk, credibility and stability. The stability of the euro is a priority for the ECB. Compared with the idea of stability, the strength of the euro is of lesser importance. This does not mean that the exchange rate of the euro does not constitute an element to be considered in the second pillar of the monetary policy strategy of the ECB, which consists of a broadly based assessment of the outlook for price developments and risks to stability obtained from a wide range of economic indicators, the euro exchange rate being one of them. However, the basic factor that will determine the importance of the euro as a widely used currency in the world economy, in addition to the demographic, economic and financial dimensions of the euro area, is, without a doubt, the stability of the new currency, understood as a means to maintain the purchasing power of savings.
Stability is the basic requirement for a good currency. It is what we at the ECB want for the euro. We want a stable euro and we are convinced that, in the long term, the euro will derive strength from its stability.
The stability of the euro is the basis for the confidence in and the credibility of the ECB, without which a large international role for the euro would be unthinkable. Stability is the proof of the effectiveness of the institution. Yet in order to be credible it is not sufficient for the ECB to maintain stability. Other parameters of its action must be considered: accountability, transparency and communication, a Europe-wide perspective, etc.
These parameters or conditions for the credibility of the euro are certainly demanding. However, the achievement of these conditions is the aim of all those of us who have responsibilities with regard to the functioning of the Eurosystem.
The second factor, which we have called the large size factor or the habitat of the euro, is important because without a certain critical mass, a currency cannot have international relevance, however high its degree of stability.
The figures relating to the population and the GDP of the euro area illustrate this. With 292 million inhabitants, its population exceeds that of the United States (270 million) and that of Japan (127 million). The GDP of the euro area is, on the other hand, equal to 76% of the GDP of the United States (EUR 5,774 billion compared with EUR 7,592 billion), though it is higher than that of Japan (EUR 3,327 billion). The source of this information, which refers to 1998, is Eurostat.
However, even more important than the current figures is the potential for the future development of the euro area, in terms of population and GDP, if and when the so-called "pre-ins" (Denmark, Greece, Sweden and the United Kingdom) join the Eurosystem.
The entry of these countries would result in a monetary area of 376 million inhabitants, 39% larger than the United States and almost triple the size of Japan, with a GDP of EUR 7,495 billion, only slightly less than that of the United States and 125% higher than that of Japan.
All these facts and figures which demonstrate the demographic and economic importance of the European Union would be further strengthened by enlargement to eastern Europe. Our continent has a historical, cultural and geographical identity - from the Iberian peninsula to the Urals, with certain additional external territories - which, in the future, may also come to form an economic unit. However that is, for the moment, a distant prospect.
The size or habitat of an economy does not only depend on demographic or economic factors; it also has to do with the financial base or dimension of the area. In considering the financial dimension of the euro area, the first relevant feature to observe is the low level of capitalisation of the stock markets in comparison with the United States and Japan.
Although this feature could give the impression that the euro area has a relatively small financial dimension relative to its economic dimension, this is not the case. The lower degree of development of the capital markets is offset by a higher degree of banking assets. This means that the financial base of real economic activity in Europe is founded on bank intermediation, which is also a feature of the Japanese economy. For example, private domestic credit in the euro area amounts to 92.4% of GDP, while in the United States it is only 68.9%. Conversely, fixed domestic income represents 34.2% of GDP in the euro area compared with 66.1% of GDP in the United States (statistics from the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements as at the end of 1997, taken from the Monthly Bulletin of the European Central Bank). We, therefore, have two distinct models of private financing which clearly have to be taken into account when assessing Europe's financial dimension compared with the United States or Japan.
The euro, the Eurosystem's monetary policy and, in general, the activity of the ECB and the Eurosystem play a key role in the integration of European financial markets and all markets in general. The euro is acting as a catalyst for European economic integration. And more integration will lead to a greater economic and financial dimension.
Monetary and financial integration stemming from the euro and the activity of the Eurosystem will affect the operation of the single European market in a positive way. The European market, with a single currency, will tend to be more transparent, more competitive, more efficient and will function more smoothly. This is the reason why joining the European Union, as a general rule, will lead to joining the euro area, once certain economic conditions (the so-called convergence criteria) have been fulfilled.
Monetary union is always a political operation, irrespective of its technical and economic implications. Currency is one of the most genuine expressions of sovereignty, because the power to issue money is one of the greatest powers in existence. The Treaty on European Union led, first, to the depoliticisation of monetary power in Europe, by means of granting independence to the central banks and prohibiting the monetising of public deficits, and afterwards to denationalisation or supranationalisation (via the creation of the Eurosystem). The Eurosystem was not only created for the purpose of improving the operation of the Single Market, but also in order to make progress on the building of the European political structure.
The euro should not only be seen as a catalyst for European economic integration, it should also be seen as a main beam necessary to construct the European political structure. The relationship between political power and monetary power is an interesting subject which is open to investigation and discussion, but that would certainly go beyond the scope of this speech. I merely wish to point out that, in the case of Europe, it is clear that following the achievement of a single currency, the door remains open to political union, which would represent a crucial step in the process of integration. In conclusion, it would seem clear that the implications of the euro go "beyond supply and demand" (to use the title of the work of Wilhelm Rцpke). We are now fully immersed in "meta-economy", which means it is time to end my speech.
Keynote address to be delivered by
Dr. Willem F. Duisenberg
President of the European Central Bank
The European System of Central Banks
Current position and future prospects
At a Conference organised by the Royal Institute of International
European economic and Monetary Union
Markets and Politics under the Euro
London 27 november 1998
Ladies and Gentlemen, I should like to express my appreciation at being invited to deliver a speech at this conference organised by the Royal Institute of International Affairs. It is a great pleasure for me to be here, in London, today.
The topic I am going to address relates to the current position and the future prospects of the European System of Central Banks. I feel that this topic provides me with an opportunity to deal with the objective of the ESCB and its contribution to the other policies in the Community. I will also briefly touch upon the decision-making in the ESCB, recall the main features of our monetary policy strategy and talk about our regard for openness and transparency. The final part of my talk will cover the views of the ESCB on recent economic developments and the future outlook for price stability in the euro area.
2. Independence, transparency and accountability
In the Maastricht Treaty the ESCB has been given an independent status. The reason is that politicians all over the world have come round to the view that monetary policy decisions taken with too close a political involvement tend to take too short a time horizon into consideration. The consequence is that in the longer term such decisions do not support sustainable gains in employment and income, but only lead to higher inflation. This view is confirmed by a host of economic research.
Independence, however, requires a clear mandate. The ESCB has such a mandate. Its primary objective is to maintain price stability. Without prejudice to the objective of price stability the ESCB shall support the general economic policies in the Community. Price stability is not an end in itself: it creates the conditions in which other, higher-order, objectives can be reached. In particular, I share the deep concerns about the unacceptably high level of unemployment in Europe. The ESCB will do what it can to contribute to the solution of this problem. By maintaining price stability inflation expectations and interest rates can be kept at a low level. This creates a stability-oriented environment which fosters sustainable growth, a high level of employment, a fair society and better living standards. Moreover, in specific circumstances, if production, inflation and employment all move in the same direction, monetary policy can play some role in stabilising output and employment growth without endangering price stability. However, the contribution from monetary policy can generally be only limited. Given the structural nature of the unemployment problems the solution is to be found, above all, in structural reforms aimed at well-functioning labour and product markets.
An independent central bank does not only need a clear mandate. It has also to be an open and transparent institution, for at least three reasons. First, transparency enhances the effectiveness of monetary policy by creating the correct expectations on the part of economic agents. A predictable monetary policy contributes to achieving stable prices without significant adjustment costs and with the lowest interest rate possible. The second reason is that in a democratic society the central bank has to account for its policies. Finally, transparency towards the outside world can also structure and discipline the internal debate inside the central bank.
Let me now turn to the ways and means of achieving transparency. As a first element the ESCB has defined a quantitative objective for price stability. It reads as follows: price stability is a year-on-year increase in the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for the euro area of below 2%. Although I do not consider deflation to be likely in the current environment, I may add that a situation of falling prices would not be consistent with price stability.
The Governing Council has made it clear that "Price stability is to be maintained over the medium term". The ESCB cannot be held accountable for short-run deviations from price stability, for example due to shocks in import prices or specific fiscal measures. A monetary policy reaction to short-run fluctuations in the price level would provide the wrong signals to the market and cause unnecessary interest rate volatility. In summary, the ESCB will react in an appropriate, measured and, when necessary, gradualist manner to economic disturbances that threaten price stability in the medium term, rather than in an abrupt way, in order to avoid unnecessary disruptions of the process of economic growth. That said, the ESCB will, whenever necessary, openly discuss and explain the sources of possible deviations from the quantitative definition of price stability.
In addition, let me remind you that by focusing on the HICP for the euro area, the ESCB makes it clear that it will base its decisions on monetary, economic and financial developments in the euro area as a whole. The single monetary policy has to take a euro area-wide perspective: it will not react to specific regional or national developments.
The institutional implication is that the ESCB should develop into a strong unity, with a strong centre and strong national central banks. It should become a truly European institution, with a truly European outlook. Of course, it may take some time to arrive where we ultimately want to be. We have to get used to thinking in euro area-wide terms. In the ECB Governing Council we are already "practising" that approach and are making progress. I am confident that the ESCB will indeed act as a unity.
Transparency and openness will be apparent from the way in which the ESCB communicates with the public. The ESCB will regularly present its assessment of the monetary, economic and financial situation in the euro area and provide information about each specific monetary policy decision, be it a move in interest rates or an absence of change. This will notably be done by way of press releases, press conferences, publications and speeches. Press releases are made available immediately after the fortnightly meetings of the Governing Council and, as you may know, they always include a precise list of the decisions taken together with background information.
There will be a monthly press conference. Such a press conference will start with a detailed introductory statement, as has been the case so far, and these introductory statements will also be published immediately, without delay. In this statement the Vice-President and I will present the Governing Council's view of the economic situation and the underlying arguments for its monetary policy decisions, followed by a question and answer session.
The publications of the ESCB will include, in particular, an ECB Bulletin each month as well as an Annual Report. As from 1999, a detailed analysis of the economic situation in the euro area will be presented in the monthly Bulletin. Thematic articles in this Bulletin will include in-depth analyses by the ECB on matters regarding the monetary policy of the ESCB and the economy of the euro area. Further, you may also recall that, as required by its Statute, the ESCB will publish its consolidated balance sheet on a weekly basis.
My colleagues on the Executive Board of the ECB and I intend to be very active in giving speeches dealing with all issues of relevance for the conduct of monetary policy. I am convinced that the Governors of the national central banks will also play their role in this respect.
Since I am talking about the communication and external relations of the ESCB, I would like to underline that I am prepared to accept invitations to appear before the European Parliament at least four times a year to present the activities of the ESCB and the ECB's Annual Report. Finally, it should be noted that the ESCB will have a regular exchange of information and views with the ECOFIN. Representatives of the ECB will be invited to ECOFIN meetings whenever issues of concern to monetary policy are discussed. A similar relationship will naturally also exist with the EURO-11, whose meetings will generally be attended by the President of the ECB, whenever matters relevant to the ESCB are on the agenda.
3. Monetary policy strategy of the ESCB
We are now approaching the start of the Third Stage of EMU. The decision-making bodies of the ECB have made a certain number of important decisions since the ESCB was established. As part of these decisions, the monetary policy strategy of the ESCB was recently announced and explained to the public. The selected stability-oriented strategy promotes as much continuity as possible with the existing strategies of national central banks in the EU. At the same time, its design is adapted to the unique situation of introducing a single currency in eleven countries, which may to a certain extent change economic behaviour. Therefore as much continuity as possible and as much change as required is the thrust of our strategy.
Our strategy consists of two pillars. The first is an important role for money and the second is a broad-based assessment of the outlook for price developments in the euro area. The main reason for assigning a prominent role to money is the empirically well-founded view that inflation, at least in the long run, is a monetary phenomenon. This simple and obvious observation led the Governing Council to announce a quantitative reference value for the growth of a broad measure of money. This choice will create a "nominal anchor" for monetary policy and therefore help stabilise private inflation expectations at longer horizons. The reference value will be derived in a manner that is clearly consistent with - and serves the achievement of - price stability. It will be constructed such that, in the absence of special factors or other distortions, deviations of monetary growth from the reference value will signal risks to price stability.
However, it has to be clear that the reference value is different from an intermediate monetary target, as the ESCB has not made any commitment to correct deviations of actual monetary growth from the reference value over the short term. In particular, it has been realistically recognised that the move to a single currency and ongoing financial innovations may generate fluctuations in the selected monetary aggregate which are not necessarily associated with inflationary or deflationary pressures. For this reason, it is important to continuously monitor the relevance of temporary factors or even structural changes in order to avoid a mechanistic policy reaction to deviations of the chosen monetary aggregate from the reference value. The results of this analysis and its impact on the ESCB's monetary policy decisions will be explained to the public.
Let me turn now to the second key element of the monetary policy strategy, the broad-based assessment of the risks to price stability. The information contained in monetary aggregates, while of the utmost importance, will by no means constitute the whole of the "information set" in the hands of the ESCB. In parallel with the analysis of money growth, a wide range of economic and financial variables will be used to formulate an assessment of the outlook for price developments. The envisaged strategy will enable the ESCB to perform a cross-check between the information coming from the evolution of monetary aggregates and those from other economic and financial indicators.
4. Recent economic developments and prospects
Let me turn to the current economic situation. The euro area experienced a strengthening of economic growth in 1997, to 2.5%, and a further acceleration has been anticipated for this year. The global environment has, of course, deteriorated in the meantime, but this has not so far had an observable impact on growth which has, in any event, been increasingly led by domestic demand. Inflation has remained subdued and even fallen somewhat over the past year, partly as a result of the impact of weaker global demand on oil and commodity prices. However, the favourable pattern of inflation has also been supported by domestic factors, such as a very moderate development in unit labour costs and industrial producer prices.
Concerning recent price developments, HICP inflation for the euro area fell to 1.0% in September, due to a strong impact from food prices, but I would not want to read too much into this latest decline as some price components can be relatively volatile over short periods. More significantly, preliminary data suggest that various broad monetary aggregates for the euro area are increasing at between 3 and 5%, and thus do not appear to signal any strong incipient inflationary or deflationary pressures. We are in line with the consensus view that inflation in the euro area will rise moderately in 1999, but remain below 2%. I do not consider deflation to be a serious risk for price stability at present.
So far, despite the worsening of the global environment, euro area-wide activity has continued to expand at a fairly stable rate. At around 3%, annual real GDP growth was broadly unchanged in the first half of 1998 from the solid growth seen in the second half of 1997. Industrial production growth has slowed somewhat since the spring. More recent evidence, particularly that of the area-wide survey data, may also suggest a moderation in the pace of growth and further developments in these indicators will continue to be monitored closely. Area-wide growth should, however, be supported by a number of domestic factors. One factor supporting continued growth, particularly in private consumption, is the gradual improvement in labour market conditions. Moreover, the lowest short-term interest rates in the euro area currently stand at 3.3%, and several countries have cut interest rates towards this level recently as part of the process towards interest rate convergence. The process of convergence towards this level has been gradual, but should imply a reduction in the average short-term interest rate in the euro area of about 0.5 percentage point since July. Long-term rates also stand at low levels. And, there has been a marked degree of exchange rate stability among countries participating in the euro. This is undoubtedly a welcome development from the standpoint of encouraging trade and investment. Thus, our assessment is similar to that of other international organisations, that - unless the international environment deteriorates further, which is not currently expected - growth will be somewhat weaker in 1999. Growth should, however, remain high enough to support continued employment creation and, assuming a recovery in the international environment, there should be a pick-up in growth in the year 2000. At the meetings in December the ECB Governing Council will again assess the outlook for economic and price developments.
Although the economic outlook may be less favourable than expected - let us say - half a year ago, I believe that the conditions for a successful launch of the euro are in place. You can be sure that the ESCB will do its utmost to make the euro a stable currency.
The euro: pushing the boundaries
Presentation by Ms Sirkka Hдmдlдinen,
Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank,
at the symposium arranged by the European Private Equity and
Venture Capital Association
on 11 June 1999 in Prague
It is a great honour for me to be invited here today to this symposium arranged by the European Private Equity and Venture Capital Association to speak about the new European currency - the euro. Indeed, the theme of this symposium - "Pushing the boundaries" - is very appropriate when speaking about the euro. To my mind, the establishment of Economic and Monetary Union can be characterised as pushing the boundaries in several ways, such as:
* pushing the boundaries in the process of European
* pushing the boundaries of stability-oriented policies in
* pushing the boundaries of market integration in Europe.
In today's presentation, I shall give an overview of these three aspects of Economic and Monetary Union. Thereafter, I shall discuss more thoroughly the implications of the single currency for the development of the European financial markets, focusing on the capital markets. Finally, I shall reflect briefly on the importance of equity prices, and other asset prices, in the formulation of monetary policy.
1. Pushing the boundaries of the process of European integration
I shall start with a few comments on the role of the euro in the overall European integration process: I think there is little doubt that in future books on European history the start of the third stage of European Economic and Monetary Union on 1 January 1999 will be marked as a significant and unique event in the long process of European integration. On that day, the national currencies of 11 EU countries became denominations of the euro. At the same time, the "Eurosystem" (which is composed of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the 11 national central banks (NCBs) of the participating Member States) assumed responsibility for the monetary policy of the euro area.
In order to put this event into a historical context, I should like to note that the establishment of an Economic and Monetary Union in Europe was, in fact, originally motivated more by general political arguments than by economic arguments. In the current debate, these overall political arguments have almost disappeared. Instead, the media and economic analysts are increasingly focusing their assessment of the new currency on the recent short-term economic and financial developments in the euro area.
The process of European integration started shortly after the end of the Second World War and gained momentum in the 1950s. At the time, the striving for integration was mainly driven by the aim of eliminating the risk that wars and crises would once more plague the continent. Through the establishment of common institutions, political conflicts could be avoided or at least resolved through discussion and compromise.
The idea of establishing a monetary union and a common monetary policy was raised at an early stage of this process. It was argued that the full economic effects from integration in Europe could only be gained if the transaction costs of exchanging different currencies were eliminated. Other benefits of a monetary union in Europe were emphasised less in the early stages of the discussion, partly due to the fact that at that time the Bretton Woods system was already providing a high degree of exchange rate stability.
The first concrete proposal for an economic and monetary union in Europe was presented in 1970 in the so-called Werner Report, named after the then Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Pierre Werner. However, this proposal was never implemented. In the aftermath of the break-up of the Bretton Woods system and the shock of the first oil crisis in 1973, the European economies entered a period of stagnation with high inflation, persisting unemployment and instability in exchange rates and interest rates. The European countries applied very different policy responses to the unfavourable economic developments, and policy co-ordination deteriorated. In this environment, it was not realistic to establish a monetary union.
The experience of this volatile period showed that large exchange rate fluctuations between the European currencies led to a disruption of trade flows and an unfavourable investment climate, thereby hampering the aims of achieving growth, employment, economic stability and enhanced integration. Therefore, the benefits of eliminating intra-EU exchange rate volatility became an increasingly powerful argument when the issue of establishing an economic and monetary union was revisited in the so-called Delors Report in 1989.
The Delors Report contained a detailed plan for the establishment of Economic and Monetary Union and eventually became the basis for the drafting of the Maastricht Treaty. This time, the time schedule for establishing the Economic and Monetary Union took into account the need to first achieve a high degree of nominal convergence for the participating countries.
The fact that the plan for the introduction of the single currency was then pursued and implemented in such a determined and consistent manner implied, in itself, a boost for the overall process of integration. The momentum of the process of integration is no longer crucially dependent on political decisions. By contrast, the integration of the European economies has become an irreversible and self-sustained process, which is proceeding automatically in all areas of political, economic, social and cultural life. The euro can thus be seen as a catalyst for further co-ordination and integration in other policy areas. This is one way in which the introduction of the euro has definitely helped to push the boundaries in the process of European integration.
Another way to push the boundaries in the European integration process relates to the geographical extent of the euro area and the European Union. Here, I sincerely hope that the four EU countries which have not yet adopted the euro will soon be able to join the Monetary Union. At the same time, I hope the process to enlarge the European Union with the applicant countries will progress successfully. An enlargement of the euro area and of the European Union would further strengthen the role of Europe in a global perspective and should be for the benefit of all participating countries. However, it is clear that countries aiming to join the Economic Monetary Union would have to fulfil the same degree of nominal convergence as was required from the participating countries when the Economic and Monetary Union was established. This is essential in order to avoid tensions to emerge in the euro area, which could eventually compromise macro-economic stability.
2. Pushing the boundaries of stability-oriented economic policies
Economic and Monetary Union in Europe also provides an opportunity to push the boundaries in areas of economic policy. The convergence process prior to the establishment of Economic and Monetary Union was helpful in order to achieve a broad consensus among policy makers on the virtues of stability-oriented policies, i.e. policies directed towards price stability, fiscal discipline and structural reform geared at promoting growth and employment. The convergence process also helped policy makers to focus their efforts on the formulation of stability-oriented economic policies in the participating countries and it also facilitated the acceptance of these policies among the general public.
In the new environment of Economic and Monetary Union, monetary policy can no longer be applied as a means of accommodating economic developments in an individual Member State. Such nation-specific developments would have to be countered by fiscal and structural policies, while the best way in which the single monetary policy can contribute to improved conditions for growth and employment is by ensuring price stability in the euro area as a whole. In this respect, the formulation of the Maastricht Treaty is instrumental, since it guarantees the Eurosystem's firm commitment to price stability; it clearly specifies that price stability is the primary objective of the single monetary policy.
The Eurosystem has put a lot of effort into establishing a monetary policy framework that will ensure that it can fulfil its primary objective of price stability as efficiently as possible. There are several aspects to this framework.
First, the Eurosystem has adopted a quantitative definition of the primary objective - the Governing Council of the ECB has defined price stability as a year-on-year increase of the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for the euro area of below 2%. This is a medium-term objective. In the short run, many factors beyond the scope of monetary policy also affect price movements.
Second, the Eurosystem has made public the strategy to be used for the implementation of the single monetary policy. This strategy is based on two key elements, whereby money has been assigned a prominent role, as signalled by the announcement of a reference rate of 4Ѕ% for the 12-month growth of the euro area monetary aggregate M3. The other element consists of a broadly based assessment of the outlook for price developments and the risks to price stability in the euro area on the basis of a wide range of economic and financial indicators.
Third, the Eurosystem puts significant emphasis on the need to carefully explain its policy actions in terms of its monetary policy strategy. Therefore, the Eurosystem has established various channels for the communication with market participants and the general public. The most important communication channels are the ECB's Monthly Bulletin, its press releases and the press conferences following the meetings of the Governing Council, the President's appearances in the European Parliament and the speeches given by the members of the Governing Council.
Fourth, the Eurosystem's monetary policy is implemented in a marketed-oriented manner. The Eurosystem's key policy instrument is its weekly tender for two-week repo operations, the so-called main refinancing operations. The features of the monetary policy operations are decided by the decision-making bodies of the ECB, but the operations are conducted in a decentralised manner by the NCBs.
The experience gained from the first five months of operations has shown that the Eurosystem's procedures for decision-making and operational implementation works very well. There are therefore no operational reasons to call into question the ability of the Eurosystem to fulfil its mandate to ensure price stability in the euro area. However, stable macroeconomic policies cannot be achieved by monetary policy alone. It is also necessary for governments to pursue fiscal and structural policies consistent with such macroeconomic stability.
In order to ensure fiscal discipline in the participating countries, the EU Council agreed in June 1997 to establish the so-called Stability and Growth Pact. This Pact sets an upper limit of 3% of GDP for the fiscal deficits of the countries participating in the euro area. Furthermore, the Pact specifies as an objective that Member States are to bring government budgets close to balance or even into surplus in the medium term. Only if this objective is met will sufficient room for manoeuvre be created to enable fiscal policy to react to cyclical developments without risking a loss of credibility.
As regards structural policies, the policy framework is, so far, less well developed. This is worrying given that the need for structural reform is urgent in many areas in order to be able to effectively promote greater growth potential and higher employment. I appreciate that these problems are generally acknowledged, and some action has been taken in recent years. For example, it is encouraging that the European Employment Pact adopted at the EU Summit in Cologne last weekend explicitly recognises the need to pursue comprehensive structural labour market reform.
Nevertheless, experience from several countries shows that it usually takes a long time for the full effects of structural reforms to be seen. Therefore, it is worrisome that structural reforms, in particular as regards labour markets as well as those to limit expenditure on social security and pension systems, are long overdue in several Member States.
Clearly, the establishment of Economic and Monetary Union does not mean that the efforts undertaken during the convergence process can be relaxed. On the contrary, the need for policy co-ordination among the participating countries is now even more pressing. We have already seen examples of negative market reactions to any perceived slippage in fiscal discipline or postponement of structural reform. Personally, I think that these swift market reactions, although sometimes exaggerated, may be helpful in promoting a continued stability-oriented policy thinking in Europe. Any move towards less responsible policies would come up against intense peer pressure from other countries.
In this context, I would once more like to underline how important it is that a consensus has emerged among European policy-makers on the virtues of price stability, fiscal discipline and market-oriented structural reform. In this way, we have already pushed the boundary significantly towards a macroeconomic environment conducive to growth and employment, although much still needs to be done in the years to come.
4. Pushing the boundaries in the development of financial markets
However, the success of the euro is not only in the hands of central bankers and policy-makers. An important area in which the private sector has an instrumental role in meeting the challenge of pushing the boundaries is in the development of the European financial markets. In order for the euro to be a success, it is important for the euro area financial markets to become wider, deeper and more diversified. The introduction of the euro has provided further input into this process; the elimination of exchange rate risks has removed one of the main barriers to financial market integration in Europe.
In most European countries, the financial markets have, traditionally, been rather shallow, with few participants and a narrow range of financial instruments on offer. A high degree of segmentation and a lack of cross-border competition have implied relatively low trading volumes, high transaction costs and a reluctance to implement innovative financial instruments. This segmentation has been a function of exchange rate borders, tradition, differing practices and, of course, national regulations and tax regimes.
Following the elimination of the barriers implied by different currencies, it is now up to the European Commission and the relevant national authorities to further the integration process in the areas of regulation and taxation. Meanwhile, it is up to market participants to take advantage of the business opportunities implied by the increased scope for market integration.
The introduction of the euro brought about an almost immediate integration of the national money markets into a euro area-wide money market. This was made possible thanks to the establishment of pan-European payment systems, such as the TARGET system set up by the Eurosystem, which enables banks to access liquidity throughout the euro area in real time.
The cross-border integration of bond markets in the euro area is progressing at a slower pace, as is also true of equities and derivatives markets. This notwithstanding, we are also experiencing important developments in these segments of the financial markets. These developments are partly due to the general trends towards globalisation and technological refinement and partly related to the introduction of the euro. As a result of the introduction of the euro, market participants increasingly perceive similar instruments traded in the different national markets to be close substitutes. This holds true, in particular, for bonds issued by the euro area governments, where the establishment of common benchmarks, the narrowing of yield spreads and increased market liquidity seem to indicate that a high degree of cross-border substitutability has already been achieved.
The fact that euro area financial instruments are increasingly considered to be close substitutes increases the competitive pressures on national markets to attract issuers and investors wishing to benefit from increased cross-border competition and lower transaction costs. In this context, we have recently experienced several initiatives aimed at creating capital markets across national borders, such as the plans to establish common trading platforms linking the European stock exchanges. Similar initiatives have also been taken to establish links between national securities settlement systems, which would facilitate the cross-border mobilisation of securities. In the longer run, such developments will make it possible for investors to manage their investment portfolios more efficiently.
The Eurosystem welcomes such initiatives aimed at improving the cross-border integration of financial markets in the euro area, and globally, since they may result in a wider range of financial instruments on offer, and at a lower cost, than is currently the case in the national markets. This could lead to a virtuous circle in which the increased issuance of instruments denominated in euro will draw the attention of international investors to the euro area capital markets, in turn making the euro an increasingly attractive currency for private as well as public issuers.
In fact, the experience of the first few months of the life of the euro seems to indicate that such a positive development may already be under way. In the first quarter of 1999, bonds denominated in euro accounted for around 50% of the bonds issued internationally. This share is considerably higher than the traditional aggregate share for bonds denominated in the constituent currencies, which had been in the range of 20% to 30% in recent years. We have also seen a considerable increase in the average size of bond issues denominated in euro, as compared with those of bonds denominated in the former currencies, which may indicate that the trade in euro-denominated issues is likely to become increasingly liquid.
Despite the recent developments in the euro area capital markets, euro area companies are still mainly dependent on financing through the banking system. Hence, there is still plenty of scope for further development in the area of corporate financing. For example, the amount of private bonds traded in the euro area is still very low compared with the United States. The market capitalisation of equities is considerably lower in most euro area countries as compared with the United States and the United Kingdom. Likewise, the venture capital business in the euro area is still in its infancy compared with the relatively mature venture capital markets in the United States and the United Kingdom. Personally, I am convinced that the introduction of the euro will also be helpful to the development of these segments of the financial markets.
In this context, I should like to say a few words on how the introduction of the euro may underpin the reshaping of the European banking sector. The increased scope for securitisation will put pressure on the European banking sector to move away from traditional retail banking activities in favour of more advanced financial services. The European banking industry is still segmented into relatively small national markets. The introduction of the euro is likely to add momentum to cross-border integration in the European banking sector. Although a considerable consolidation of the European banking sector has taken place over the last decade, this consolidation has so far been almost exclusively based on mergers and acquisitions within national borders. It is only recently that we have also started to see such deals taking place across national borders.
I welcome this trend towards an expansion beyond national borders with open arms, since the establishment of truly pan-European - and global - banking groups will be instrumental in efforts to enhance competition in the provision of financial services.
5. The Eurosystem and the equity markets
I should like to conclude my presentation today by briefly discussing about the euro area equity markets as seen from the perspective of the Eurosystem. It is clear that the Eurosystem has no direct control or influence over the development of equity markets. However, the Eurosystem acknowledges the importance of well-functioning and efficient equity markets for the economy as a means of mobilising savings into productive investment. Hence, efficient equity markets with transparent price formation, high market liquidity and low transaction costs are of great value in the capital formation process.
The existence of efficient equity markets should also reduce the risk of the emergence of asset price bubbles, which is desirable from a monetary policy perspective. Prior to the emergence of asset price bubbles in some industrialised countries in the early 1990s, few central banks paid much attention to the development of prices of equities or other assets in their monetary policy formulation.
However, the effects of the bubble economies in the early 1990s, notably in Japan, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, led to an intense debate among economists on how monetary policy could have responded better to the situation. Some research was carried out in order to establish price indexes that would incorporate asset prices and which could be used as target variables or indicators within the monetary policy framework. However, no central bank is explicitly making use of such asset price-weighted indexes in monetary policy formulation. Nevertheless, this development in the early 1990s made most central banks aware of the fact that large swings in asset prices can have important effects the price formation in the economy through its implications on real economic developments and, in particular, financial market stability.
However, in practice it is not easy to let monetary policy actions respond to asset price developments. Central banks have only one tool for the implementation of monetary policy - the short-term interest rate. They can therefore not effectively try to achieve several objectives at the same time. It is also difficult to judge how developments in asset prices actually feed into consumer prices, thereby making it tricky to assess the need for the appropriate monetary policy response to their changes. This difficulty is exacerbated by the rather high volatility of certain asset prices, such as equities, which could result in frequent changes in policy interest rates if the central bank were to incorporate them mechanistically into its reaction function.
In this respect, the present situation in the United States, as well as in several European countries, is interesting: equity prices have risen rapidly for an extended period but consumer prices remain very subdued and there are, so far, no signs that there is going to be a spill-over from asset price developments into consumer price inflation.
Against the background of the rather unclear relationship between asset price developments and consumer price inflation, the development of equity prices does not have a prominent role in the formulation of the Eurosystem's monetary policy. This notwithstanding, the Eurosystem closely monitors the prices of equities and other assets within its broadly based assessment of economic developments in the euro area, which forms the second pillar of its monetary policy strategy. The Eurosystem will therefore remain vigilant in order to detect any influence from asset prices, through their impact on real economic developments and financial market stability, on the formation of consumer prices.
THE MONETARY POLICY OF THE EUROPEAN CENTRAL BANK
Speech by Eugenio Domingo Solans
Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank
during the "Working Breakfast" at the Permanent Seminar
on 4 December 1998 in Madrid
It was with immense pleasure that I accepted the invitation to take part in this event, organised by Euroforum. In view of the prestigious nature of Euroforum, the professional standing of its President, Eduardo Bueno, Professor at the Universidad Autуnoma de Madrid and consultant to the Banco de Espaсa (there is a great deal of similarity between our respective professional histories) and, above all, the value I have attached to his friendship over the past thirty years, there was no question as to whether to agree to join you for this working breakfast.
I have been asked to keep my presentation brief in order to allow as much time as possible for discussion. Therefore I will try to put forward a few ideas on the monetary policy of the European Central Bank (ECB) which I can develop during subsequent discussions. During the discussion period please feel free to raise any questions on other aspects of the ECB's operations.
The three fundamental principles underlying the monetary policy
As in the case of any other central bank, the ECB's monetary policy is based on three fundamental principles: setting the objectives to be achieved, establishing the most appropriate strategy for accomplishing these objectives and, finally, selecting the best instruments for implementing its chosen strategy.
While the Governing Council of the ECB is responsible for formulating its monetary policy, both the Executive Board of the ECB and the national central banks are involved in its application and therefore this constitutes one of the tasks allotted to the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) as a whole.
Objectives, strategies and instruments therefore form the three main elements which enable us to establish the precise point within the range of monetary policy possibilities which should constitute the ECB's policy: its precise altitude, longitude and depth.
The ECB's monetary policy objectives
We did not have to think long and hard to define the ECB's monetary policy objectives and, generally speaking, those of the ESCB. This had been done for us by the Treaty on European Union in which, under Article 105, it is stated that "the primary objective of the ESCB shall be to maintain price stability" which, on a more practical level, the ECB has defined as a year-on-year increase in the harmonised index of consumer prices (HICP) for the euro area of below 2%, which it seeks to maintain in the medium term. "Without prejudice to the objective of price stability", continues the aforementioned Article 105 of the Treaty, "the ESCB shall support the general economic policies in the Community with a view to contributing to the achievement of the objectives of the Community as laid down in Article 2".
If you refer to the aforementioned Article 2 of the so-called Treaty of Maastricht, you will find that sustainable and non-inflationary growth, together with a high level of employment and social protection, are among its aims.
The ECB, then, must prioritise those of its activities which promote the objective of stability and, without prejudice to this approach, it will contribute, indirectly and to the extent possible, to economic growth and increased employment.
Is this approach in any way contradictory? Absolutely not. The best contribution the ECB can make to promoting investment and thus to generating economic growth and increased employment is precisely by providing a framework for price stabilisation. The worst path that the ECB could follow would be to implement a lax economic policy which claimed to be directly creating jobs.
In fact, in the medium term price stability will encourage efficient investment, sustainable growth and employment. This is because stability prevents price distortions, that is to say any distortion of the mechanism which guides decision-makers in the markets, and thus favours an improved allocation of resources. When stability is achieved, prices are more transparent, which promotes competition and therefore efficiency.
Moreover, if economic agents have positive expectations with regard to stability, the risk premium element of long-term of interest rates will fall, promoting investment and lasting consumption. In this respect, it should be remembered that one of the clearest inflation forecast indicators is an increasingly steep maturity-related asset yield curve.
Finally, stability promotes growth and employment insofar as it allows resources to be channelled into productive activity. Inflation, on the other hand, merely encourages speculative investment with the aim of safeguarding funds against monetary deterioration.
As we saw earlier, the aims set out in Article 2 of the Maastricht Treaty also include social safeguards. In this context, therefore, it can be said that inflation is the most unjust of all taxes, because it attacks personal income and assets while distorting certain public redistribution mechanisms such as, for instance, progressive taxation scales.
In other words, stability is not just important for economic efficiency but also for social justice, since it provides economic conditions which benefit the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.
An appropriate ECB monetary policy is a necessary condition but will not, in itself, enable us to achieve stability. National taxation policies geared to satisfying the objectives of the Stability and Growth Pact, together with several supply-side policies leaning towards liberalisation and flexibility, are also necessary to enable us to avoid the persistent need for measures to combat inflation.
We must avoid the temptation to reinterpret the Stability and Growth Pact by introducing "golden rules" of dubious legality, based on the false theoretical foundations of the so-called "ultra-rationality hypothesis" which, in the past, claimed to justify increased taxation pressure and which now calls for increased public spending in terms of investment. Let's not beat about the bush: taxation policy has only one golden rule, which consists in maintaining a long-term budgetary balance on the economic horizon.
In connection with the ECB's objectives, it should also be noted that it is difficult or even impossible to meet two separate targets simultaneously using only a single monetary policy. This applies when dealing with the concept of fixing fluctuation bands for the rate of exchange between the euro and the US dollar. In this case, the exchange rate objective could conflict with the price stability concept and the ECB would then fail in its primary objective. We must not forget, with regard to this issue, that combining linked exchange rates, the free circulation of capital and monetary autonomy is not, to be quite blunt, sustainable. It is precisely this which is the raison d'кtre of the ECB as the single monetary authority in an economic area which has irrevocably fixed exchange rates (a single currency) and freely circulating capital (a single market).
To conclude this section, let me stress that it is essential for the ECB to make it absolutely clear that its main objective is stability. If, as some would suggest (for instance in the Modigliani manifesto), the ECB were to directly target employment, this would adversely affect the credibility of its monetary policy and thus have an impact not only on inflation but also, paradoxically, on employment. The direct targeting of employment objectives by a central bank is counterproductive.
The ECB's monetary policy strategy
A strategy is a combination of criteria and procedures which allow decisions to be taken in order to achieve a monetary policy objective. This decision-making process can be based on inflation forecasts which depend on the behaviour of a relevant monetary variable or, more simply, on the "pegging" of exchange rates to a stable currency. This last strategy is ideal for more open economies, encompassed by a specific monetary zone, such as, for instance, the Netherlands and Germany. However, this would not be suitable for a much larger but relatively closed economic space such as the euro area.
I believe that it is a mistake to try to exaggerate the polarity of the inflation strategy and the monetary strategy. These are quite clearly separate strategies but they are not in any way opposed, incompatible or irreconcilable. Certainly, some aspects of each of these strategies should be combined, resulting in another, completely separate and valid strategy. This is what the ECB has done and it now needs to give the end product a name which does not merely describe the desired objective ("the stability-orientated monetary policy strategy").
There are two components to the ECB's monetary policy strategy. The first, more practical and visible component consists in a quantitative reference to the growth of the money supply as defined by the broad M3 aggregate. Taking into account the quantitative definition of stability, economic growth and realistic hypotheses on money circulation rates, this monetary reference has initially been set at 4 1/2%.
The second component of the ECB's monetary strategy, a more general and enveloping one, is the estimation of inflation forecasts and risks for price stability in view of changes in a group of significant variables, all of which are related to the euro area as a whole. Some examples of these significant variables are credit, long-term interest rates, prices of raw materials, import prices, wages and public spending deficits.
Inflation is a monetary phenomenon. When the rate at which the money supply grows is greater than the nominal potential rate of growth of an economy, in the medium term this will generate inflation. In other words, the medium-term inflation rate is indicative of excessive monetary expansion in relation to economic growth. Growth in the money supply therefore provides the best early warning of inflation and monetary control is the best monetary policy strategy. The virtues of the first component of the ECB monetary strategy are, when all is said and done, well known. If it worked, this alone would be sufficient.
In practice, however, things are never so simple. Inflation forecasting and control cannot rely solely on a monetary aggregate because of doubts as to whether or not this monetary aggregate can be controlled and is stable and meaningful. If a narrow definition of money, such as M1, is adopted, controllability can be achieved in that, through the monetary policy instrument, it is possible to have a greater impact on its evolution, but this is offset by the loss of stability and significance. If it is decided to opt for a broad monetary aggregate, such as M3 or M4, the money demand function becomes more stable and clearly more significant, in that a greater correlation can be achieved between exchange rates, providing a better explanation of changes in nominal costs and inflation, in return for some loss of control. Despite this, doubts persist. In practice, these will, of course, increase when national currencies are replaced with the euro; then the need for the second part of the monetary policy strategy will become obvious.
The ESCB monetary policy tool
The wide range of instruments available to the ESCB for the implementation of the euro area monetary policy has been established with reference to two fundamental criteria: efficiency and neutrality. These instruments can be separated into three categories, related to open market operations, standing facilities and minimum reserves.
The ESCB's instruments and procedures do not differ significantly from those traditionally used by the Banco de Espaсa and with which you are all familiar. This means that I only need to highlight a few differences. In addition, I should add that over recent weeks the Banco de Espaсa has introduced changes aimed at facilitating a smooth transition.
With regard to open market operations, the frequency and maturity of the main re-financing operation has become that of a weekly auction of loans with a maturity of two weeks, and an interest rate which is either announced in advance (fixed rate auction) or announced later as the result of offers received (variable rate auction). There will also be monthly auctions for three-month loans which will always be of the variable rate type in order to avoid sending signals to the market. Fine-tuning will be carried out in exceptional circumstances between two regular auctions and, finally, the structural liquidity demand can be influenced by means of open market transactions which consist in the direct purchase and sale of securities or the issuance of debt certificates.
Standing credit and deposit facilities will supply or absorb overnight liquidity, without the imposition of any other restrictions on their use by institutions other than the provision of guarantees or collateral. Both types of interest on standing facilities constitute a strip or corridor which will contain short-term market interest rate swings and provide a structure for monetary policy trends. This means that they will play an important role in terms of providing signals, a role also fulfilled by the Banco de Espaсa but in a less predetermined and formalised manner.
As far as guarantees for all these transactions are concerned, it should be stated that acceptable collateral may take the form of either a public instrument or a private instrument, provided that these are of a suitable nature, according to the neutrality principle applied to the public sector and to the private sector.
The minimum reserves will be equal to 2% of book liabilities calculated on the basis of a monthly average, will be subject to a minimum exempt level of EUR 100,000 and - this being the most important point underlining the main difference compared with the current position in Spain - will be remunerated in line with market rates. The averaging provision will allow us to absorb liquidity shocks without recourse to standing facilities. Such a minimum reserves will constitute a useful tool for restricting the volatile nature of monetary market interests rates, for reducing the need for fine-tuning and for tightening up the system's liquidity, thereby enhancing the effectiveness of the monetary policy. Its remuneration in line with the market will not only reduce money demand elasticity with regard to interest rates but also offer neutrality to euro area banks as compared with those in other countries which do not use such a tool.
Although inevitably in a simplified form, I hope that this statement on the aims, strategy and instruments of the euro area monetary policy has provided some basic information on the central core of the ECB's operations and that it can be used as a starting-point for our discussions.
Thank you for listening; during the discussion period, I shall be pleased to elaborate on the issues raised or examine any others which you think may be of interest.
The monetary policy of the Eurosystem
Main remarks of the speech delivered by Eugenio Domingo Solans
Member of the Governing Council and the Executive Board of the
European Central Bank
at the SOCIETAT CATALANA D'ECONOMIA
(Institut d'Estudis Catalans)
Barcelona, 2 July 1999
The text will be available in Catalan at a later stage.
* The primary objective of the Eurosystem and, therefore, the touchstone to measure its success is the achievement of price stability. In the medium term the best contribution that the Eurosystem can make in favour of sustained growth is, precisely, to create an environment of stability. There is clearly no greater fertiliser for economic growth than price stability, and nothing is more refractory to economic growth than inflation. Provided that stability is achieved and that there is no risk for stability in the future, the Eurosystem has to create the best monetary conditions for exploiting the considerable growth potential of the euro area. This should be done in a passive way, without any activism: like the air we breathe, not like the air from an oxygen tank.
* The 5.2% increase in the three-month moving average of the 12-month growth rates of M3 covering the period from March to May 1999 is in line with the 4 Ѕ reference value for money growth, which is the basis of the first pillar of the ECB's monetary policy. Neither the slight increase in the moving average compared to its value last month (5.1%) nor the non-substantial and almost constant difference from the reference value signal a risk for price stability.
* The results of the broadly based assessment of the outlook for price developments, which constitutes the second pillar of the ECB's strategy, confirm that there is no risk to price stability in the euro area.
* The second pillar of the ECB's monetary policy strategy includes, among other indicators, the exchange rate developments of the euro. The ECB's assessment on the evolution of the exchange rate of the euro should, therefore, be linked to the risk for price stability of a depreciation of the euro. Taking into account that the euro area economy is a rather closed one, no significant inflationary impact should be expected from the recent exchange rate developments of the euro.
* One main feature of the instruments and procedures of the Eurosystem's monetary policy is their high level of flexibility, in the sense that without discretionary changes the instruments can accommodate a wide range of different market situations. On the other hand, there is flexibility in the sense that the Eurosystem has at its disposal a wide set of monetary policy instruments and has, therefore, the possibility to move from one to the other if and when it is deemed appropriate, taking into account their advantages and disadvantages. In the first stage of the ECB's monetary policy, the fixed rate tender with a discretionary allotment is the best choice for the main refinancing operation owing to its advantages in terms of signalling effects and controlling both the liquidity allotted and the volatility of overnight rates. On the contrary, in the case of longer-term refinancing operations, the Eurosystem as a rule does not intend to send signals to the market and the effects on the liquidity and on the overnight rates are weaker. Therefore, for longer-term refinancing operations, the market-oriented variable rate tender has a clear advantage.
* The activities and the monetary policy decisions of the ECB should be interpreted from a euro area perspective as a whole. To interpret them from a national standpoint would be a mistake.
THE ROLE OF THE CENTRAL BANK IN THE UNITED EUROPE
Speech by Dr. Willem F. Duisenberg,
President of the European Central Bank,
National Bank of Poland,
Warsaw, Poland on 4 May 1999
First and foremost, I should like to congratulate the National Bank of Poland (the NBP) on its 75th anniversary. The age of the NBP already suggests that as the President of the European Central Bank (ECB), an institution that is even less than one year old and has only been conducting monetary policy since January this year, I should be modest. I am aware that the role of the NBP has not been constant over these 75 years and that in the past decade, in particular, the NBP has gone through a remarkable restructuring process. My previous central bank, de Nederlandsche Bank, has, together with the International Monetary Fund and many national central banks, been involved in assisting the NBP in its efforts to adapt to the role of a central bank in a market economy. Of course, the real work had to be done by you yourselves and I believe you can be proud of what has been achieved over the past decade.
Today in my speech I should like to focus on the role of the ECB, as a truly European institution. First of all, I shall explain the background against which the introduction of the euro and the establishment of the ECB should be considered. Thereafter, I shall discuss the main features of the institutional structure that determines monetary policy-making. I shall then turn to our monetary policy strategy and the role of accountability and transparency in this strategy. I shall conclude by briefly addressing the issue of EU enlargement.
2. The process of European integration
On 1 January of this year the euro was introduced in 11 countries with a combined population of almost 300 million. The ECB started to conduct a single monetary policy for the so-called euro area. Former national currencies, such as the French franc and the German Mark are no longer autonomous currencies, but subdivisions of the euro. Euro banknotes and coins will only be introduced in 2002.
The voluntary transfer of monetary sovereignty from the national to the European level is unique in history. However, it should not be seen as a single, isolated event. The introduction of the euro is part of the process of European integration. This process started shortly after the second World War and has now been under way for more than half a century. The aims of European integration are not only, or even primarily, economic. Indeed, this process has been driven and continues to be driven by the political conviction that an integrated Europe will be safer, more stable and more prosperous than a fragmented Europe. It is true that economic integration has been the main engine of this process and that, although it has had its ups and downs, integration has delivered important economic benefits. On balance it has been successful.
The introduction of the euro and the establishment of the ECB are important new steps in this process of European integration. They are not the completion of this process, for at least two reasons. First, the launch of the euro can be compared to the launch of a rocket. A good launch is crucial, but only the beginning of the mission. The euro has been launched successfully. The challenge now is to make it a success. This will not happen automatically, but will require effort on the part of many authorities, institutions and people. Second, four EU Member States have not (yet) introduced the euro. I hope that this will happen in the future. Moreover, as you are aware, the EU itself is likely to increase its membership over time, also to include Poland. Ultimately, this is bound to extend the euro area. This process, too, is already requiring and will continue to require great efforts: no pain, no gain, as is often the case.
3. The institutional framework of the single monetary policy
Let me now turn to the institutional framework for the conduct of the single monetary policy. This was laid down in the Treaty establishing the European Community, the so-called Maastricht Treaty, and the Statute of the ESCB, which is an integral part of this Treaty. According to the Treaty the ECB has the primary objective of maintaining price stability. Without prejudice to this objective, it is to support the general economic policies in the Community, with objectives such as economic growth and high employment.
Decisions on monetary policy are made by the Governing Council of the ECB. This body comprises the six executive directors of the ECB and the 11 governors of the national central banks (NCBs) of the Member States which have introduced the euro. These 17 people meet every fortnight at the ECB, in Frankfurt am Main. Decision-making on monetary policy is fully centralised. All members of the Governing Council have one vote, whether they come from Germany or Luxembourg. This is because of an important principle. They are not representing their country, but are obliged to take decisions on the basis of euro area-wide considerations. Regional or national monetary policy does not and cannot exist in the euro area. There is only one, single monetary policy for the euro area as a whole. Therefore, the ECB should develop into a truly European institution. This is a process that will inevitably take some time, but my feeling is that we are already making good progress.
The execution of monetary policy is to a great extent decentralised. It is in large part carried out by the NCBs. The ECB and the 11 NCBs together are referred to as the Eurosystem. If we refer to the ECB and the 15 NCBs of all EU Member States, we speak of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). The General Council of the ECB meets quarterly and comprises the President and Vice-President of the ECB and the 15 governors of the NCBs of all the EU Member States. This body does not make decisions on monetary policy, but discusses issues concerning the relationship between the "ins" and the countries I prefer to call "pre-ins", such as exchange rate issues. The third decision-making body of the ECB is the Executive Board of the ECB, comprising the six executive directors of the ECB. The Executive Board is responsible for current business and the implementation of monetary policy as decided by the Governing Council. The staff of the ECB will, in the course of this year, reach a level of between 750 and 800 and is likely to grow further in the years ahead.
The ECB is one of the most, if not the most, independent central bank in the world. Its independence and that of the participating national central banks are firmly enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty. Members of the Governing Council are not allowed to take or seek instructions from anybody, politicians included. Politicians are not allowed to give such instructions. Members of the Governing Council have a term of office of at least five years. The ECB is financially independent.
The independent status of the ECB fits into the recent world-wide trend of granting independence to central banks. This tendency is evidenced by both practical experience and academic research. By shielding monetary policy decisions from political interference, price stability can be maintained without having to give up economic growth. Indeed, in that sense having an independent central bank is a good thing for all concerned. The reason for central bank independence is that monetary policy-making under the influence of politicians tends to focus too much on short-term considerations. This can easily lead to temporary, non-sustainable increases in growth, but inevitably results in lasting increases in inflation with no lasting gains in growth and employment at all. Politicians all over the world have come to realise this and have decided to remove the temptation to pursue short-term gains and to make their central bank independent. It should be underlined that granting this independence is, as it should be, a political decision. An independent central bank needs a clear legal mandate.
4. The monetary policy strategy
The ECB has, as I mentioned earlier, such a mandate. However, the Treaty does not specify how the ECB should pursue its primary objective of maintaining price stability; in other words: it is silent on what is called the monetary policy strategy. The ECB therefore formulated its strategy in the second half of last year. That was no easy task. The introduction of the euro constitutes a structural break, which may change the behaviour of firms and individuals and make it less predictable. To a certain extent it is comparable to what Poland experienced when it embarked on its reform process. The rules of the game change and this makes policy-making more complicated. Our monetary policy strategy has taken these specific circumstances into account. It is tailored to this unique period of the introduction of the euro, although it has elements of both monetary targeting and inflation targeting.
In the context of this strategy the ECB has provided a quantitative definition of price stability. Price stability is defined as a year-on-year increase in the harmonised index of consumer prices (HICP) of below 2% for the euro area as a whole. Price stability is to be maintained in the medium term.
The strategy consists of two pillars. The first pillar is a prominent role for money. Ultimately, inflation is a monetary phenomenon. It is in the end result of too much money chasing too few goods. Therefore, we have formulated a reference value for the growth of a broad monetary aggregate, M3, of 4 Ѕ% on an annual basis. Growth of the money stock at this pace would provide the economy with sufficient liquidity for growth in activity in line with trend growth, without inflation. At the end of this year this figure will be reviewed. It should be emphasised that we did not define a target for money growth. The reason for this is the structural break that the introduction of the euro creates. By calling this a reference value, it is made clear that money is one variable which we look at very carefully in order to examine whether inflationary or deflationary pressures are tending to emerge. We do not, however, react mechanistically to changes in money growth.
The formulation of the second pillar is also prompted by the potential changes in economic behaviour on account of the introduction of the euro. It is a broadly based assessment of the outlook for price developments on the basis of an analysis of monetary, financial and economic developments. In this context interest rates, the yield curve, wage developments, public finance, the output gap, surveys of economic sentiment and many other indicators are analysed. Use is also made of forecasts produced by other bodies and internally for inflation and other economic variables.
This brings me to the role of the exchange rate of the euro in our strategy. Since our primary objective is price stability and since the euro area as a whole is a relatively closed economy with an export share of 14% of gross domestic product, we do not have a target for the exchange rate of the euro, for example, against the US dollar. This does not mean, and it is good to underline this once more, that the ECB is indifferent to the external value of the euro or even neglects it. The external value of the euro is one of the indicators we look at in the broadly based assessment of the outlook for price developments. Within that framework, we constantly monitor exchange rate developments, analyse them and shall act on them, if and when this becomes necessary. However, such action will never be mechanistic, nor will it be isolated. The external value of the euro and its development are analysed and considered in the context of other indicators of future price developments. The ECB also tries to assess international confidence in the still very young euro. Of course, the level of international confidence in the euro is not the only factor determining its external value, nor is the exchange rate the only indicator of confidence in the euro. It is, for instance, encouraging to see how the euro has been received on the international money and capital markets. I am sure that an internally stable euro will also strongly underpin international confidence in this currency, as it has for other currencies in the past.
As the currency of a very large area, the issue of the international role of the euro naturally arises. The ECB takes a neutral stance regarding this role. It will neither be stimulated, nor hindered. On the one hand, an international currency has advantages for citizens in the euro area, on the other, it may sometimes complicate the conduct of monetary policy when a large amount of euro is circulating outside the euro area. We shall leave the development of the international role of the euro to market participants and market forces. If history is a guide as to what will happen, there will be a gradual process whereby the euro will have an increasingly international role. Such a gradual development would also be a welcome development, if only to prevent the euro from becoming too strong externally at some point in time. It is likely and understandable that interest in the euro is already considerable in those countries aspiring to join the EU, including Poland. I shall elaborate on this issue at the end of my speech.
Coming back to our monetary policy strategy, I should like to point out that it is important to make clear what monetary policy can and cannot do. Monetary policy can maintain price stability, but only in the medium term. In the short term prices are also influenced by non-monetary developments. Moreover, monetary policy measures only have an impact on prices with long, variable and not entirely predictable time-lags of between 1.5 and 2 years. Therefore, monetary policy-making should have a forward-looking character. Today's inflation is the result of past policy measures, and current policy measures only affect future inflation. The uncertainty of the economic process in a market economy is another reason for policy-makers to be modest. The ECB does not pursue an activist policy. Precise steering of the business cycle or a cyclically-oriented monetary policy are not feasible and are likely to destabilise rather than stabilise the economy. Some commentators have interpreted our recent interest rate reduction as a change to a more cyclically-oriented monetary policy strategy. This is not true. Our strategy was, is and shall remain medium term-oriented and firmly focused on maintaining the price stability which currently prevails in the euro area.
Monetary policy should be supported by sound budgetary policies and wage developments in line with productivity growth and taking into account the objective of price stability. Otherwise, price stability can only be maintained at a high cost in terms of lost output and employment. This also explains why independence should not mean isolation. It is important to have a regular exchange of information and views with other policy-makers. The Maastricht Treaty stipulates that the President of the ECB is invited to meetings of the EU Council meeting in the composition of the Ministers of Economy and Finance whenever there are issues on the agenda which are relevant to the ECB's tasks. The President of the Council of Ministers and a member of the European Commission may attend meetings of the Governing Council, although they do not have the right to vote. The President of the Council of Ministers may submit motions for deliberation. Apart from these formal contacts, there are many informal contacts, for example in the context of the so-called Euro-11 group of finance ministers from the euro area countries. I regularly attend meetings of this group.
Monetary policy cannot be used to solve structural problems, such as the unacceptably high level of unemployment in the euro area. Structural problems call for structural solutions, in this case measures targeted at making labour and product markets work more flexibly. The best contribution the ECB's monetary policy can make in this context is to maintain price stability. In this way one of the conditions for sustainable growth in incomes and employment is created. As important as this is, it should be realised that jobs are created by firms which are confident about the future and not by central banks.
5. Accountability and transparency
Accountability for policies is the logical complement to independence in a democratic society. The Maastricht Treaty includes a number of provisions in this respect. First, there is the mandate to pursue price stability. This provides a qualitative measure against which the ECB's performance can be measured. As I have already mentioned, we have decided to enhance this by providing a quantitative definition of price stability. One of the aims of publishing our monetary policy strategy is to make our policy decisions transparent.
The ECB has to publish an annual report in which, inter alia, the monetary policy of the previous and current year are discussed. I present this Annual Report to the EU Council and to the European Parliament, which may hold a general debate on the basis of it. The President and other members of the Executive Board of the ECB may be heard by the competent committees of the European Parliament. I have agreed to appear before the European Parliament at least four times a year. The ECB has to report on its activities at least quarterly. It has been decided to go beyond this requirement and to publish a monthly bulletin.
It is my view that the main way to achieve accountability is through being transparent and open. In passing, I should like to note that transparency also enhances the effectiveness of a central bank. The better it is understood, the more successful a central bank is. Apart from the activities I have already mentioned, transparency is achieved in several ways. Every month, after the first meeting of the Governing Council, the Vice-President and I give a press conference. I start the conference with a comprehensive introductory statement, in which I explain the decisions taken by the Governing Council and the underlying analysis and arguments for and against. This introductory statement is published immediately on the ECB's Internet Web site. This is followed by a question and answer session attended by several hundred journalists. The questions and answers are also published on the Internet shortly afterwards. All the members of the Governing Council frequently make speeches, give interviews and contribute to journals and books. Thousands of people visit the ECB and the national central banks each year and, for our part, we and our staff attend many conferences and other public events.
6. EU enlargement
The European integration process continues. The euro should be made a success. I have already explained how we have started the process of doing that. Some observers have criticised the EU for its "obsession with its own internal dynamics", in particular in the context of European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). With all energies focused on meeting the convergence criteria and the preparation for the launch of the euro, Europeans outside the EU have wondered whether EMU and enlargement are not mutually exclusive objectives.
Let me briefly comment on this issue. After the historic decision to complete the European Single Market in the 1980s, it was felt that economic integration should not stop at that point. To fully reap the rewards of economic integration within the Community, a single currency was felt necessary; a logic pointedly encapsulated in the title of one report: "One market, one money".
Hence, the underlying idea of EMU was to advance European integration and to ensure that full use would be made of the economic potential of the Single Market. This idea continues to be the focus of European policy-makers, as evidenced by the association agreements and the ongoing accession negotiations with a number of European countries, Poland among them. Good and mutually beneficial economic relations with third countries in Europe and further afield are a pillar of EU policy orientation. Recognising this, the principles of an open market economy with free competition are enshrined in the Treaty on European Union. EMU will not weaken this commitment, but rather reinforce it. Closer co-operation in Europe and the respect of common principles in the political, economic and social fields are likely to form the basis for further integration. The ECB shall contribute to this process within the scope of its responsibility.
Countries wishing to deepen their monetary co-operation to the ultimate extent possible by forming a monetary union will have to adapt their economic and legal systems to the standards required by the Treaty and aim at a sufficient degree of economic convergence. In the absence of these conditions, adjustment costs for both current and new participants could be high. Any premature decision on the adoption of the euro could have severe repercussions on a country's competitiveness and trigger painful economic adjustments. Therefore, implementation of the necessary institutional reforms and of a sufficient degree of convergence should not be considered as an obstacle preventing further integration in Europe, but rather as an essential means of ensuring the lasting success of EMU, for existing and new participants alike. Looking at the impressive progress made in a relatively short time in this country, there is no reason to be pessimistic about Poland's chances of meeting these standards and convergence criteria. I shall not venture, however, to predict when this will be the case.
Even at the current juncture, though, EMU in one part of Europe is already having an impact on the whole region. Let me briefly mention two aspects:
* If the euro emerges, as I believe it will, as a strong and
stable currency, it will provide the countries in the region
with an important reference currency, an anchor towards
which, should the intention arise, monetary policy could
credibly be oriented.
* Furthermore, EMU is set to bring about the development of a
truly unified European financial market, close to that of
the United States in depth and sophistication. The
competitive pressures of this euro area financial market
will create more favourable financing conditions for
borrowers. A number of central and eastern European
countries have already successfully tapped this market.
In view of these effects, it is altogether natural that the ECB has started to follow with great interest economic and financial developments in the wider Europe, particularly in those countries which have applied for EU membership. Moreover, the ECB monitors closely the exchange rate developments with those countries which have established some form of exchange rate link to the euro.
The euro has the potential to become more than just a new currency for almost 300 million people in 11 countries. It may also become a unifying symbol, standing for all that the peoples of Europe have in common. Consequently, the public perception of the euro could endow the single currency with a role in the European integration process reaching beyond monetary policy in the strict sense. May the euro contribute to the establishment of what the preamble to the Treaty Establishing the European Community calls: "an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe".
The single European monetary policy
Speech by Willem F. Duisenberg
President of the European Central Bank
at the University of Hohenheim
on 9 February 1999, in Hohenheim, Germany
Ladies and gentlemen, The single European monetary policy has been a reality for a little more than five weeks. After years of intensive preparatory work and successful economic convergence, monetary policy is now jointly determined for a large part of Europe by the Governing Council of the European Central Bank. The monetary policy is implemented by the Eurosystem, the name given to the ECB and the 11 central banks of the EU Member States participating in Monetary Union.
The single currency is quoted on the international financial markets and is used in non-cash payments. However, the euro will not appear as yet in tangible form as banknotes and coins. Nonetheless there is no doubt that this currency, which was only brought into existence on 1 January 1999, will play an important role both within the euro area and beyond.
There is good reason for this confidence, ladies and gentlemen. Overall the first few weeks went smoothly for the single currency and the monetary policy of the Eurosystem. The start did not pass by entirely without a hitch - which was not to be expected in any case, given the significance and scale of this project - but there were no major complications.
Monetary Union is a unique and outstanding achievement. It provides the great opportunity to achieve the goal of lasting price stability throughout Europe. Price stability is the best contribution that monetary policy can make to lasting economic and employment growth in Europe. The national governments and all those involved in collective wage bargaining are being called on to remove the structural causes of the excessively high unemployment. We can only hope that the introduction of the euro will spur the implementation of structural reforms.
The stability-oriented monetary policy strategy of the Eurosystem
The Treaty establishing the European Community assigns the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) - and thereby the Eurosystem - the primary objective of maintaining price stability. The Governing Council will do its utmost to fulfil this task and to explain its monetary policy so as to be comprehensible to the general public. For this reason we have developed a stability-oriented monetary policy which essentially consists of three main elements.
The Governing Council has published a quantitative definition of its primary objective, price stability. This gives clear guidance for expectations in relation to future price developments. Price stability is defined as an increase in the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices of the euro area of less than 2% compared with the previous year. The publication of this definition provides the public and the European Parliament with a clear benchmark against which to measure the success of the single monetary policy, and thereby provides for the transparency and accountability of the Eurosystem and its policy.
The wording "less than 2%" clearly defines the upper limit for the measured inflation rate which is compatible with price stability. I do not think I need emphasise that deflation - or a sustained fall in prices - would be incompatible with price stability. The latest available data for the annual rate of inflation according to the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices for the euro area as a whole fall within the definition of price stability. This outcome is clearly the result, above all, of the successful monetary policy of the national central banks in the years before the start of Monetary Union.
The ECB has only been responsible for monetary policy for a little more than one month. It will only be possible to judge the success of its current policy in one to two years'time. This reflects the fact that the transmission of monetary policy impulses is subject to relatively long and variable time lags. The Governing Council has therefore emphasised that price stability must be maintained in the medium term. This statement underlines not only the need for a forward-looking approach to monetary policy, but also takes into consideration the short-term volatility of prices in response to non-monetary shocks which are beyond the control of monetary policy.
In order to achieve the goal of price stability, our strategy rests, in particular, on two "pillars". Before I explain this in more detail, I should like to emphasise that traditional and previously established macroeconomic relationships could change as a consequence of the introduction of the euro. This was one key reason why neither a monetary targeting nor a direct inflation targeting strategy could be applied. Our strategy is also more than just a simple combination of these two approaches. Rather, it is precisely tailored to the needs of the ECB.
The first pillar of the monetary policy strategy is a prominent role for money. Since inflation is ultimately a monetary phenomenon in the medium term, the money supply provides a natural "nominal anchor" for a monetary policy geared to safe-guarding price stability. To emphasise this prominent role, the Governing Council has published a quantitative reference value for growth in the money supply. The first reference value decided upon by the Governing Council for growth in M3 was 4.5% per annum and was published on 1 December. This value is based on the above-mentioned definition of price stability and assumes a trend growth in real gross domestic product of 2-2.5% per annum, as well as a medium-term reduction in the velocity of circulation of M3 of around 0.5-1% per annum.
We shall not, however, respond mechanistically to deviations from the reference value for money supply growth, but shall first analyse them carefully for signals relating to future price developments. Larger or sustained deviations normally signal risks to price stability.
The second pillar of the monetary policy strategy consists in a broadly based assessment of the outlook for price developments in the entire euro area. This assessment will be based on a broad range of monetary policy indicators. In particular, those variables which could contain information on future price developments will be analysed in depth. This analysis should not only provide information on the risks for price development, but should also help to identify the causes of unexpected changes in important economic variables.
Some commentators reduced this comprehensive analysis to an inflation forecast. At the same time, there were demands for the ECB to have to publish these forecasts in order to satisfy the need for transparency and accountability. Therefore allow me to make this clear: our strategy includes a comprehensive analysis of numerous indicators and several forecasts. To focus on a single official inflation forecast of the Eurosystem for a specific point in time would in no way accurately reflect our internal analytical and decision-making process. It would impinge upon the transparency and clarity of the explanation of our policy. The publication of an official inflation forecast would also be inappropriate with regard to the accountability of the ECB, all the more so if this forecast were based on the assumption of no change in the monetary policy. The success of the monetary policy of the ECB should primarily be measured in terms of the maintenance of price stability, not the accuracy of its conditional forecasts.
The stability-oriented monetary policy strategy of the Eurosystem, which I have just outlined, constitutes a new and clear strategy. It emphasises the primacy of the goal of price stability. It takes into account the inevitable uncertainties concerning economic relationships inherent in the transition to Monetary Union and the associated systemic changes and guarantees a high degree of transparency.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to comment on certain suggestions on the orientation of monetary policy which have recently appeared in the press. Some of these ideas give the impression that monetary policy should concentrate upon objectives other than price stability, since stable prices have already been achieved. Inter alia, it has been suggested that the ECB should react more or less mechanistically to exchange rate developments or other variables such as, for instance, unit labour costs. Furthermore, there were calls for monetary policy, by means of reductions in interest rates, to be used to combat unemployment. Against this background there is a need to set out clearly the possibilities and limitations of monetary policy.
Both the reasoning in the Maastricht Treaty and many economic analyses show that the best contribution the single monetary policy can make to employment growth is to concentrate on price stability. Without such a clear approach there is a danger that the public may question the commitment of the Eurosystem to the goal of maintaining price stability. Inflation expectations, risk premia and thus long-term rates would rise. This would increase the cost of the investment which is necessary for a sustained and lasting rise in the standard of living.
Even under the best possible circumstances, though - i.e. if it proves to be possible to assure lasting price stability - monetary policy alone cannot solve the major economic problems of unemployment and future problems in social security systems.
The Governing Council regards the current high level of unemployment in the euro area as a matter of great concern. This problem is, however, predominantly a structural one. It is mainly the result of the rigidities in the labour and goods markets in the euro area which have arisen partly through an excessive and disproportionate degree of regulation. Structural economic reforms, which target the reduction of rigidities, are the appropriate solution. In those euro area countries in which such reforms have been implemented unemployment figures have declined markedly. In addition, I should like to emphasise that moderate wage developments and a reduction in the burden of tax and social security contributions would generally help to reduce unemployment. This would be the case even if the country concerned did not trade heavily with its neighbouring countries. The positive influence of low taxes and wages on employment clearly has overall benefits from an international perspective. Such a policy should not be denounced as "wage dumping".
Turning to the role of exchange rates between the euro and other important currencies outside the EU, in particular the US dollar, the Eurosystem has, in formulating its monetary policy strategy, made an unambiguous choice. This strategy clearly rules out explicit or implicit objectives or target zones for the euro exchange rate. The pursuit of an exchange rate objective could easily jeopardise the maintenance of the objective of price stability and could thereby also be detrimental to real economic development. Target zones for exchange rates could, for example, lead to the ECB having to raise interest rates in a recession, despite increasing downward pressure on prices. I am sure you will agree that such a mechanistic response to a change in the euro exchange rate would not be optimal. Furthermore, it is important to remember that we are living in a world with high capital mobility. Exchange rate agreements, which might have been possible to implement until recently, are no longer feasible.
The lack of an exchange rate target does not mean that the ECB is totally indifferent to or takes no account of the euro exchange rate. On the contrary, the exchange rate will be observed and analysed as a potentially important monetary policy indicator in the context of the broadly based assessment of the outlook for price developments. A stability-oriented monetary and fiscal policy, as stipulated by the Maastricht Treaty and the Stability and Growth Pact, is an essential pre-condition for a stable euro exchange rate. Of course, there is no guarantee of lasting exchange rate stability, not even in a fixed exchange rate regime. Exchange rate fluctuations are often caused by structural or fiscal policy, asymmetric real shocks or conjunctural differences. Monetary policy would clearly be overburdened if it had to prevent such movements in the exchange rate.
We cannot and shall not gear our monetary policy towards a single variable, whether a money supply aggregate, an index, the exchange rate or an inflation forecast for a particular point in time. Nor can we be involved in any ex ante co-ordination which would entail an obligation to react to particular commitments or plans. The ECB will always carefully analyse all relevant indicators. In this context, it is particularly important that the economic causes of potential risks to price stability in the euro area are understood as fully as possible. Appropriate monetary policy decisions also depend upon the causes of unexpected changes in important economic variables. The Governing Council must, for example, take a view on whether changes in important indicators are of a temporary or permanent nature, and whether a demand or supply shock is involved. In our deliberations we also attempt to take into account how the financial markets, consumers and firms are expected to react to monetary policy decisions. I believe few would contest that such a complex analysis cannot meaningfully be reduced to a more or less mechanistic reaction to a few variables or a single official forecast.
In addition, concern was often expressed that the Eurosystem would not act transparently enough. In this context, it was said that a transparent monetary policy also necessitated the publication of the minutes of the meetings of the Governing Council and disclosure of the voting behaviour of the individual members of the Council.
For sound reasons the Governing Council decided not to adopt this approach. The publication of individual positions could easily lead to national influence being exerted over the individual Council members. The members of the Governing Council must not, however, be seen as national representatives. They decide together on the monetary policy for the euro area as a whole. The Governing Council has committed itself to go beyond the reporting and explanatory requirements laid down in the Treaty, which are among the most comprehensive requirements by international standards.
On the basis of our strategy, after every first meeting in the month I deliver to the press a detailed explanation of our assessment of the overall economic situation and, in particular, the outlook for price stability. The content of this so-called "introductory statement" is very close to what other central banks refer to as minutes. In this way, the public receives comprehensive information immediately following the meetings of the Governing Council. In addition, each month we shall publish a detailed report on the economic situation and monetary policy throughout the euro area in our Bulletin. Such rapid information on the results of the meetings of the Governing Council and the current economic analysis of the ECB without doubt demonstrates a high degree of openness and transparency.
The most recent monetary policy decisions and operations
Co-operation between the European central banks was always very close. In the last few months of 1998 the countries participating in the third stage of Monetary Union co-operated more and more closely. The co-ordinated reduction in leading rates at the beginning of December 1998 clearly showed that the currency union had begun de facto before the start of Stage Three. This co-ordinated measure contributed substantially - as we now know - to the stabilisation of market expectations.
For more than five weeks the ECB has been conducting monetary policy operations, mainly in the form of reverse open market operations. The main operation will be carried out at a weekly frequency with a maturity of two weeks. So far, five such operations have been conducted successfully, at a fixed interest rate of 3%.
Besides the reverse transactions which constitute the main instrument for liquidity control and targeting interest rates, the Eurosystem offers two "standing" facilities: the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility. These can be accessed by credit institutions via the national central banks. The marginal lending facility is primarily a safety valve for short-term liquidity shortages in the banking system and thereby limits upward movements in money market rates. To some extent, its counterpart is the short-term deposit facility, which is used to absorb short-term liquidity surpluses. This forms the lower limit for money market rates. For the start of Monetary Union the interest rate on the deposit facility was set at 2% and the rate on the marginal lending facility was set at 4.5%.
As a transitional measure, the Governing Council decided to establish a narrow corridor of 2.75-3.25% between the rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility from 4 to 21 January 1999. The intention was to facilitate the necessary adjustment to the new institutional environment brought about by the transition to Stage Three. As already announced, on 21 January 1999 it was decided to return to the rates on the two "standing" facilities that were set for the start of the single monetary policy. Since 22 January 1999, therefore, the rate on the deposit facility has been 2% and the rate on the marginal lending facility has been 4.5%.
A critical factor in this decision was the behaviour of the money market for the euro area as a whole since the beginning of the year. The Governing Council established that over time there had been a marked reduction in the difficulties experienced by some market participants with the introduction of the integrated money market and, in particular, with cross-border liquidity flows. All in all, the integration of the money market in the euro area reached a satisfactory stage only three weeks after its implementation. In analysing the money market it should be noted that, inter alia, there can be a marked difference between ECB interest rates and short-term market rates. On the one hand, market rates may include credit risk premia, and on the other, expectations may lead to differences between the two rates.
At its meeting last Thursday the Governing Council confirmed its earlier assessment of the outlook for price stability. Therefore it was decided to leave the conditions for the next main refinancing operations, on 10 and 17 February 1999, unchanged. They will be carried out as volume tenders at a fixed rate of 3%, the same conditions as the last such monetary policy operations.
In addition, in recent weeks the first longer-term open market operations were also conducted, in the form of reverse transactions. These were carried out on 14 January 1999 in three parallel tender procedures with maturities of one, two and three months. The fixed rate tender procedure was used. By contrast with the regular main refinancing operations, the Eurosystem does not use these longer-term operations to send signals to the market and therefore usually acts as a price-taker. The ECB thus gives advance indication of the planned allocation. The interest rates which arise from these monetary policy operations should therefore be seen as indicators of prevailing market conditions.
Regular assessment of the monetary, financial and economic situation
To conclude, I should like briefly to report on the Governing Council’s current assessment of the monetary, financial and economic situation. On the basis of these assessments the Governing Council decided last Tuesday to leave interest rates unchanged.
Taking into account the latest monetary data for December 1998, the three-month moving average of the 12-month growth rate of the monetary aggregate M3 (for the period from October to December 1998) remained more or less stable at 4.7%. This value is very close to the reference value set by the Governing Council. According to our analysis, the evolution of the money supply shows no risks to price stability. Credit to the private sector also grew strongly in December last year. Although at present we do not perceive any inflationary signals, further developments will be very carefully monitored.
With regard to the broadly based assessment of the outlook for price developments and the risks to price stability in the euro area, monetary and financial developments can be seen to indicate a favourable assessment of the latest monetary policy decisions of the Eurosystem. They indicate that market participants expect a continuation of the environment of price stability. Long-term rates fell to new historical lows at the beginning of 1999 and there was an overall downward shift in the yield curve. Therefore, financing conditions for investment are currently exceptionally favourable.
At present the growth prospects for the euro area are, however, still marked by the uncertainties relating to the development of the world economy in 1999. These uncertainties have had a negative impact on indicators of the economic climate in the euro area. There are widespread expectations of an economic slowdown in the near future. This deterioration in the external economic environment can be linked, above all, to the financial crises in Asia, Russia and Latin America. However, there is a mixed picture. While the growth rate for industrial production fell up to November 1998, retail sales figures and consumer confidence have recently shown positive trends. Furthermore, growth in real gross domestic product in the euro area was relatively robust in the third quarter of 1998. In the United States real growth in the fourth quarter actually turned out higher than expected. Measured against the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices, the HICP, consumer prices in the euro area rose by 0.8% in December 1998. This is a tenth of a percentage point lower than in November. This development is in line with earlier trends. It can be linked, in particular, to a further decline in energy prices and a weakening in price increases in industrial goods.
All in all, the above-mentioned economic development and the available forecasts for 1999 do not indicate any noticeable upward or downward pressure on prices. Potential upward risks could arise from a change in the external global economic situation and any associated effects on the euro area, via import and producer prices. These developments must be carefully monitored. There is concern that inflationary pressure might develop in the event of a strong increase in wage prices and an easing of fiscal policy. Developments in the exchange rate will also be closely monitored in view of their significance for price developments.
Finally, let me emphasise that the current level of real interest rates is exceptionally low. If real interest rates are taken simply as the difference between nominal rates and the current increase in consumer prices (HICP), short-term real interest rates in January 1999 stood at 2.3%, i.e. around 80 basis points lower than one year ago. Long-term real rates have fallen even more, by 110 basis points, and stood at 3% in January. These levels are very low, both compared with other countries and with historical data. In line with the safe-guarding of price stability, the current monetary and financial conditions thus clearly support future economic growth. Monetary policy can do no more than this without jeopardising the great overall economic advantages of price stability and its own credibility.
Real structural reforms which increase the flexibility of the labour markets, as well as a continuation of the moderate increase in wage prices, would not only ease the burden on monetary policy but would also support employment growth. This will be all the more true if the deterioration in the economic situation this year is worse than expected owing to the negative aspects of the external economic environment.
The statistical requirements of the ESCB
Speech delivered by Eugenio Domingo Solans,
Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank
on the occasion of a visit to the Banque Centrale du Luxembourg
Luxembourg, 25 March 1999
The booklet introducing statistical requirements for Stage Three, which the EMI published in July 1996, began with the bold statement: "Nothing is more important for the conduct of monetary policy than good statistics." These challenging words show the importance which the EMI attached to this area of preparations for Monetary Union, and I must say this has been fully justified by our experience in the first few weeks of the life of the euro.
The statement of requirements
But let me start back in 1996. Because of the time it takes to implement statistical changes in reporting institutions and central banks, a statement of prospective statistical requirements could be delayed no longer. But that statement had to be made with very imperfect knowledge. Nobody knew at that stage (for example) what definitions of monetary aggregates would be chosen for the single currency area, or what their role would be. Given the differences in financial structures in our countries, it was not clear how to identify the financial institutions from whose liabilities the money stock would be compiled. It was decided to define them in functional terms, and in such a way that money-market funds as well as banks of the traditional type would be included. It was not clear at that stage whether minimum reserves would be applied, and, if they were, what form they would take - although it had been decided that the banking statistics data would provide the basis for any such system. Implementation had to start quickly for the statistics to be ready in time for a Monetary Union starting in 1999, but no one knew which Member States would adopt the single currency - though it was clear that the distinction between business inside and outside the euro area, would be of critical importance for monetary and balance of payments statistics, and would have to be planned for in statistical systems.
In mentioning monetary and balance of payments statistics, I do not want to suggest that the statistical requirements set out in 1996 were confined to these areas. On the contrary, they covered a wide range of financial and economic data, including financial accounts, prices and costs - relating directly to the ESCB's main responsibility under the Treaty, namely to maintain price stability - government finance data, national accounts, labour market statistics, production and trade data and other conjunctural statistics, and more besides. These areas are, or course, under Eurostat's responsibility.
The focus on the euro area as a whole
In formulating and implementing statistical requirements, it was important to realise that the ESCB's attention would have to focus on the euro area as a whole. Monetary policy cannot discriminate among different areas of the Monetary Union - although in practice it may have different effects because of different national economic and financial structures. Focus on the area as a whole has important implications. The data must be sufficiently comparable for sensible aggregation; they must also be available to a comparable timeliness and to the same frequency. In some cases (monetary and balance of payments statistics) they had to be available in a form permitting appropriate consolidation. In short, with a few exceptions, it was realised that adding together existing national data would not be adequate. Important initiatives were already under way, such as the adoption of a new European System of Accounts [ESA95] and the implementation at national level of a new IMF Balance of Payments Manual. However, wide-ranging statistical preparations would be necessary for the ECB to have the sort of statistical information that the national central banks have traditionally used in conducting monetary policy.
How far the provision meets the current need
I arrived at the ECB about 2 years after these requirements had been released and 7 months before the start of Monetary Union. I must confess that I doubted many times in those early weeks whether statistics could be ready in time to sustain monetary policy decisions. There were anxious moments too in the late stages of finalising the monetary policy strategy: would the requirements set out in 1996 correspond to the need perceived in autumn 1998?
I am now sure that the decisions made in 1996 were correct. In practice, one choice in autumn 1998 was almost automatic: thanks to the work of Eurostat and the national statistical offices in the context of the convergence criteria (with active involvement of the EMI), there was no plausible rival to the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for the purpose of defining price stability. I am aware that national consumer price indices are sometimes criticised for overstating inflation, because they take insufficient account of quality improvements and use outdated weights. While further development of the HICP is to come, and at present there is no satisfactory treatment of expenditure on housing, I believe that every effort has been made to apply the lessons from experience with national consumer price measures. The other choices for statistical elements in the strategy were less obvious. In fact the banking statistics reporting structure announced in 1996 proved able to provide the monetary aggregates and the counterpart analysis required, and - with a little fine-tuning - to meet the needs of a statistical basis for reserve requirements, details of which were also finalised in the autumn. We were thus able to begin publishing monetary statistics only a few days after the final decisions were taken (at the Council meeting on 1 December), and were able to publish with some estimation last month back data on the three monetary aggregates monthly to 1980, and a note urging caution on users of the earlier data.
However, the monetary strategy avoids putting too much weight on one area or type of information. This is only partly for statistical reasons. The formation of the euro area is a substantial structural change, which may in time affect monetary and financial relationships. So the ECB also examines a range of economic data for the light they shed on the assessment of the economic situation and, in particular, prospects for inflation. The editorial and economic developments sections of the Monetary Bulletin show the way the ECB draws on this information; the statistical information itself is set out in tables in the statistical section. Thus, in addition to money and credit and the HICP, the editorial typically touches on GDP, industrial output, capacity utilisation, orders, the labour market, business and consumer confidence, costs and prices other than the HICP, earnings and wage settlements, fiscal positions - naturally placing the emphasis on what are judged to be the most important developments at the time. All these areas were covered by the statement of requirements made in 1996.
I do not need to say that, at present, an accurate assessment of the economic situation in the euro area is of vital importance. The editorial section of the March Bulletin concludes that the overall outlook for price stability remains favourable, with no major risk that HICP inflation will exceed 2% in the near future, but there is nevertheless a balance of conflicting influences. To reach this judgement, the Bulletin assesses the latest GDP data (slower growth in the provisional Eurostat figures for GDP in the 4th quarter of 1998; declining manufacturing output), the labour market (unemployment falling slightly; some signs of rising pay settlements), and confidence indicated by opinion surveys (business confidence weak; the consumer mood rather optimistic). The economic developments section supports the overall conclusion, and analyses in more detail price and cost developments and of output, demand and the labour market. It concludes with analysis of the fiscal position in the euro area in 1998, and a preview based on fiscal plans for 1999. I am drawing your attention to this to show the variety of material supporting the ECB's assessment of the economic and financial position and prospects. Although we pay particular attention to certain items - the monetary statistics, with an emphasis this time on influences contributing to recent faster growth, and to the rather rapid growth of credit, and the HICP - we draw on a wide range of information in a continuous monitoring exercise. The establishment of an institution responsible for monetary policy in the euro area has caused a fundamental change in the use of macroeconomic statistics at European level, very much as anticipated by the Implementation Package nearly 3 years ago.
Priorities for further improvement of statistics
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Eurostat for their efforts to improve the quality and comparability of economic statistics relating to the euro area, and to deliver them to the ECB on a timely manner. They have given this high priority and much progress has been made in the last year or so. Further improvement will come with the introduction of the new European System of Accounts [ESA95] starting next month (although we must expect some temporary confusion following the introduction of a new system). Experience suggests that substantial statistical changes initially bring classification problems. Although, of course, provision has been made for back data to be available on the closest possible approximation to the new basis, we must also expect some discontinuity in important series. Implementation of last year's short-term Statistics Regulation will bring improvements across a wide range of conjunctural statistics not covered by ESA95. There are also initiatives to improve labour market statistics. With Eurostat, who are responsible for all these areas of statistics at European level, we do our best in the ECB to promote better data. Perhaps I should underline our support here for the priorities established last year by a working group of the Monetary Committee (the current Economic and Financial Committee), in which Yves Franchet and two of my ECB colleagues participated (Peter Bull and Gert Jan Hogeweg): in addition to quarterly GDP and short-term conjunctural statistics, these were government finance statistics, data relating to the labour market (including labour costs), and the balance of payments. At present the lack of comparable national statistics during the course of the year makes it difficult to monitor the fiscal stance in the area as a whole, and so to assess the balance of fiscal and monetary policy. Better labour market statistics are important, not only for the ECB's assessment of possible inflationary pressure, but also to improve understanding of the structure of labour markets in our countries, and the rigidities which impede the achievement of fuller employment. Balance of payments statistics - a shared responsibility of the ECB and Eurostat at European level - require a new approach in compiling data for the euro area as a whole. We intend to publish the first monthly data for the euro area following the new methodology next month, and to begin joint publication of a quarterly euro-area balance of payments with Eurostat in the summer. But there are deeper questions about future needs for balance of payments statistics in the new circumstances which are currently being addressed. Principally, the question arises of the usefulness for policy purposes of national balance of payments statistics for Member States participating in Monetary Union. There is no question, of course, that certain data in this area are needed within the ESA95 framework of national and financial accounts.
The organisational, legal and technical infrastructure
I have talked mainly about statistical requirements and their provision, but this is only part of the story. The Treaty (specifically in Article 5 of the Statute of the ESCB and the ECB) clearly envisaged that the ECB would perform statistical functions, assisted by and in co-operation with national central banks, other national authorities, the Commission (meaning in this context in particular Eurostat), and international organisations. A large part of the preparatory work carried out by the EMI consisted of sorting out who would do what, avoiding so far as possible duplication, wasted effort and conflicting data, and keeping the whole development consistent with international statistical conventions. Much of this had to be framed in legal instruments, which would complete the statutory framework provided by the Treaty and the ESCB/ECB Statute. Although work on an EU Council Regulation concerning ECB statistics began as early as 1996, the Regulation could not be finalised until last autumn and the ECB could not adopt legal instruments on statistics in advance of that event - much work in this area therefore had to be done at the last minute.
Information Technology is another of my responsibilities at the ECB. I am glad to say that essential elements of our data transfer and statistical processing systems were in place when I arrived, or brought into operation soon afterwards. But here, too, there is room for further improvement - the EMI and the ECB in these early months have had so much to do in relation to the resources available that, broadly speaking, only the essentials have been provided so far.
"Nothing is more important for monetary policy than good statistics." The formation of Monetary Union has shifted the focus of interest on to data covering the euro area as a whole. This has required substantial changes to statistics, which need time to settle down and are some way short of completion. At the same time, the adoption of the single currency is itself a massive structural change. This will surely affect economic and financial relationships and make any data harder to interpret, although these deeper effects may occur over a period and take some time to become apparent. What is clear, however, is that the ECB must take policy decisions and explain them publicly in terms of the data available relating to its policy responsibility. What we continue to strive to do, through our own efforts and with the help of Eurostat, is to improve the quality of the data underlying policy decisions, which are so important in gaining public understanding and acceptance for them.
The tasks and limitations of monetary policy
Speech delivered by Christian Noyer
Vice-President of the European Central Bank,
at the Volkswirtschaftliche Tagung of the Oesterreichische
on 10 June 1999 in Vienna
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to be here in Vienna today and I should like to start by thanking the conference organisers for giving me the opportunity to elaborate on the tasks and limitations of monetary policy.
This topic is extremely important. Looking back over the history of economic thought, it is clear that the perception of what monetary policy can do and what it cannot or should not do has changed. This has clearly shaped the role of monetary policy in economic policy. In the 1960s economic theories suggested a long-run trade-off between inflation and output. These theories provided the intellectual basis for policy-makers to pursue monetary policies biased towards higher inflation. The high inflation experience of the 1970s together with new theoretical findings, especially on the role of expectations, led policy-makers to move towards lowering and stabilising inflation.
Theoretical considerations as well as empirical evidence over several decades suggest that high rates of inflation are clearly unhelpful - indeed detrimental - to growth and employment in the long term. A large number of economic arguments point to the benefits of price stability for economic growth and employment prospects. Stable prices eliminate economic costs such as those arising from unnecessary uncertainty about the outcome of investment decisions, the distortionary effects on the tax system, rising risk premia in long-term interest rates and the reduced allocative effectiveness of the price and market systems. To quote Alan Greenspan, chairman of the United States Federal Reserve, "Price stability is achieved when the public no longer takes account of actual or prospective inflation in its decision-making." Monetary policy must take into account the fact that the horizon for decisions by economic agents is rather long-term in nature. By guaranteeing price stability, monetary policy supports the efficient functioning of the price mechanism, which is conducive to the allocation of scarce resources. Price stability is a means of promoting sustainable economic growth and employment creation and of improving productivity levels and living standards.
Against this background, the predominant view has emerged that the best and most lasting contribution that monetary policy can make to long-term economic welfare in the broader sense is that of safeguarding price stability. Central banks throughout the world have been moving towards adopting long-term price stability as their primary goal.
In order to achieve this goal most successfully, independence from political interference and a clear legal mandate for price stability are of the utmost importance. A lack of central bank independence and an ambiguous mandate can easily force central banks to focus on the short term and, thus, fail to adopt the forward-looking, medium-term orientation that is crucial for a successful monetary strategy.
All these issues were taken into consideration by policy-makers when drafting the Treaty establishing the European Community and designing the blueprint for the European Central Bank. Both central bank independence and an unequivocal commitment to price stability are therefore tenets of the monetary policy framework enshrined in the Treaty. There can be no doubt that the European Central Bank (ECB) is determined and well-equipped to tackle its main task, namely, that of maintaining price stability in the euro area over the medium term. It will thereby make a significant contribution to the achievement of other Community objectives such as high employment and sustainable non-inflationary growth. In this connection, the pursuit of sound macroeconomic policies by the EU Member States would considerably facilitate the task of the ECB. The room for manoeuvre in monetary policy and the degree of success in terms of maintaining price stability are crucially dependent on the support of sound fiscal policies and responsible wage settlements in the euro area.
The Treaty establishing the European Community states that the primary objective of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) is to maintain price stability. Without prejudice to this objective, the ESCB shall support the general economic policies in the European Community. It shall operate in a manner that is consistent with the establishment of free and competitive markets. The Treaty states explicitly how the ESCB shall set its priorities. Price stability is the first goal of the monetary policy of the Eurosystem, and a contribution to the achievement of the other objectives of the European Community can only be made if this primary objective is not compromised. However, there is ultimately no incompatibility between maintaining price stability and pursuing these other objectives. By maintaining price stability, the ECB will also contribute to the achievement of other Community objectives.
Of course, the ECB is concerned about the intolerably high level of unemployment in Europe, but we should realise that the role of monetary policy in reducing unemployment in Europe can only be very limited. Many empirical studies show that the high unemployment rate is mostly the consequence of structural rigidities within the European labour and product markets. The European unemployment rate has, indeed, been high and stable over the business cycles in the past decade. Only structural reforms, preferably of a comprehensive nature, can therefore tackle the underlying impediments to employment growth.
The monetary policy of the Eurosystem is geared towards the euro area as a whole and, thus, cannot take into account purely national and regional developments. The cyclical positions of participating countries have not yet completely converged, although, with the single currency in place, some national differences may disappear over time. This requires national policies and labour and goods markets to be increasingly flexible in order to be able to respond effectively to economic shocks. Well-functioning labour and product markets are therefore needed to allow adjustments to wages and prices to be made if local economic conditions change.
Budgetary policies play a major role in conditioning monetary policy. National fiscal authorities have to demonstrate their commitment to the maintenance of price stability in the euro area over the medium term. In this context, the Stability and Growth Pact is a crucial element. Its aim is to encourage the pursuit of disciplined and sustainable fiscal policies by the participating EU Member States and the prospective members. Sound public finances, with lower public debt and tax burdens, contribute to a lowering of long-term interest rates, reduce uncertainty and increase private capital formation. They not only facilitate the task of monetary policy with regard to the maintenance of price stability, but also strengthen the conditions for sustainable growth conducive to employment creation. Conversely, unsound fiscal policies tend to increase inflation expectations and force monetary policy to keep short-term rates higher than would otherwise be necessary.
The single monetary policy has to be conducted independently of the short-term political considerations of national governments. In this context, the ECB cannot commit itself to move its interest rates in a certain way in response to specific actions or plans of other policy-makers. Monetary policy has to take into account the overall economic situation to assess the risks to price stability. Direct ex ante co-ordination with fiscal authorities might endanger meeting the primary objective and would set the wrong incentives for the conduct of sound macroeconomic policies. This does not, of course, exclude a constructive dialogue between the Eurosystem and government authorities which clearly respects the independence of the ECB.
When dealing with one of the major world currencies and with the currency of one of the two main world economies, it is inconceivable that price stability might be maintained by setting an exchange rate target as an intermediate objective. However, external developments including the exchange rate are taken into account in accordance with our strategy, as they may have an impact on domestic economic developments and thereby on price stability. Referring to recent exchange rate developments in this context, it is appropriate for me to quote the President of the ECB, Dr. W. F. Duisenberg, who recently said that "the euro is a currency firmly based on internal price stability, and therefore has a clear potential for a stronger external value".
The absence of exchange rate targets for the euro vis-а-vis other major currencies should not be misunderstood. For smaller, very open economies, fixed exchange rates may be a very reasonable choice. The Austrian example is one of the most prominent in this respect. By pegging the Austrian schilling to the Deutsche mark for over twenty years, it proved possible to import credibility and price stability. The increasingly close pegging of the Austrian currency to the currency of its main trading partner was, among other features of the Austrian policy mix, the driving force behind the economic convergence process in the run-up to Stage Three of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). The credibility of the Austrian exchange rate target was also underpinned by an income policy aiming at relatively high real wage flexibility and a fiscal policy geared towards consolidation. All in all, the Austrian model, which set out to guarantee stability in nominal and real terms, has turned out to be very successful.
The example given by past Austrian experience is, I believe, very valuable. It shows that the achievement of sustainable convergence with the euro area can be assisted by means of an exchange rate target. The new Exchange Rate Mechanism of the European Union, ERM II, may play a similar role for those current and prospective EU Member States which have not yet joined Stage Three of EMU.
The achievement of price stability is also of high importance for the stability of the financial system. The financial system of the euro area showed a high degree of stability during last year's period of financial turbulence as well as during the rather dramatic structural shift connected to the changeover to the euro. At the ECB, we play our part in the evolution of the euro area financial system by providing it with stable monetary conditions. By creating an environment of price stability, we allow private sector agents to focus their attention on the questions that are most relevant to their activities and to take advantage of benefits of this stable environment, such as the lengthening of their planning horizons. There is a lot of empirical evidence that safeguarding price stability is the optimal contribution that a central bank can make to the maintenance of financial stability and that those two goals are actually complementary.
I should like to conclude by saying that the main contribution of the single monetary policy to the welfare of the people in the euro area will be the maintenance of price stability in the medium term. The ECB is determined to tackle this task and is well-equipped to do so. Our conviction is that the economic performance of the euro area will benefit significantly from price stability. This will ultimately facilitate the achievement of those objectives, which underlie the general economic policies of the European Community and the individual governments at the national level. However, the economic problems in the euro area cannot be tackled by monetary policy alone. We have to be realistic about the goals which can be achieved by monetary policy. Neglecting the limitations of monetary policy and promising too much could, in the long term, be detrimental to the establishment of a stability culture in Europe, and could also lead to delays in implementing the economic reforms that are crucial to achieving high growth and employment.
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