Европейская денежная система
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
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
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
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
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