Европейская денежная система
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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.
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