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ECB Pressed to Publish Meeting Minutes

The European Central Bank is facing renewed calls to publish the minutes of its monthly meetings so that the public can see more clearly which way members of the interest rate-setting committee have voted.

Bank Vault
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Bank Vault

Since it was set up in 1998, the ECB has opted to keep minutes of the governing council meetings sealed in an archive, to be released for publication only 30 years after the event.

The argument in favor of confidentiality is that 17 members of the 23-person governing council are also the heads of the national central banks of euro area countries.

Minutes identifying which way individuals voted could lead to intense domestic political pressure on both the independent central banks and their chiefs.

Erkki Liikanen, president of Finland’s central bank, told the German daily Handelsblatt in an interview published on Monday that he would, however, favor change, given the controversy about the ECB’s new bond-buying program.

“We should publish the minutes of the ECB council meetings so that everyone can follow the discussion,” he said. “And, not as has been the practice to date, after 30 years”.

Mr. Liikanen’s call comes as the German Bundesbank has stepped up public statements about the need for accountability and transparency in central banking.

Jens Weidmann, president of the Bundesbank, was left isolated at the last governing council meeting in his opposition to the bond-buying plan. Dubbed outright monetary transactions or OMT, the program is aimed at preventing the borrowing costs of eurozone countries with distressed debt markets spiraling out of control.

Although by tradition all governing council members attend ECB meetings as monetary policy experts rather than as direct representatives of the countries from which they hail, the risk of damaging public divisions across country lines has been another argument for keeping the minutes secret.

Responding to a report in another German newspaper that Mario Draghi, ECB president, was ready to start publishing the minutes, the ECB said: “The ECB is highly committed to transparency and thus permanently reflecting on this issue.”

Since minutes from even its earliest meetings are still more than 16 years away from publication, it is unclear what exact format they take or how much detail of the council’s debate they convey.

Both the Federal Reserve and Bank of England publish minutes of their meetings, including named voting records of the members, with a delay of some weeks.

The ECB, by contrast, relies on a statement immediately after its meeting that is read out by the president and it allows questions from the media about the meeting, with very variable degrees of actual disclosure as to what happened.

The German Bundesbank, which might arguably benefit from the publication of minutes if they demonstrated that its concerns about bond-buying were much more widely shared than the voting had suggested, said it “would have no problem with the prompt publication of minutes”.

Any decision on changing the practice on publishing minutes would have to be decided by a majority vote of the governing council. There has been no indication that any preparation for such a vote is under way.

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