This Special Report examines the policies pursued by the European Central Bank (ECB) since the inception of the euro. The ECB was originally set up to pursue price stability, with an eye also to economic growth and financial stability as subsidiary goals, once the primary goal was secured. The application of a single monetary policy to a diverse economic area has entailed a pronounced pro-cyclicality in its real economic effects on the eurozone periphery. Later, monetary policy became the main policy instrument to tackle financial instability elicited by the failure of Lehman Brothers and the sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone. In the process, the ECB emerged as the lender of last resort in the sovereign debt markets of participating countries. Persistent economic depression and deflation eventually brought the ECB into the uncharted waters of unconventional policies. That the ECB could legally perform all of these tasks bears witness to the flexibility of the TFEU and its Statute, but its tools and operating procedures were stretched to their limit. In the end, the place of the ECB amongst EU policy-making institutions has been greatly enhanced, but has entailed repeated intrusions into the broader domain of economic policies – not least because of its market intervention policies – whose consequences have yet to be ascertained.
Stefano Micossi is Director General of Assonime, Visiting Professor at the College of Europe and a member of the CEPS Board of Directors.