Wednesday 28 September 2016

How the Inquiry coaxed Trichet into 'appearing'

Published 01/05/2015 | 02:30

Jean-Claude Trichet, former president of the European Central Bank, answers questions from members of the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry committee at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham
Jean-Claude Trichet, former president of the European Central Bank, answers questions from members of the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry committee at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham

Jean-Claude Trichet is about the world's least likely household name.

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The former European Central Bank (ECB) president is well known though, and closely associated in the public mind with some of the worst episodes in recent Irish history - from the bailout to the failure to allow losses in the banks to fall on private investors.

His lukewarm response to a request to appear before the Banking Inquiry hasn't helped.

The Oireachtas probe has no powers to compel the former ECB chief, so it has had to play an elaborate game of footsie with him to even convince him to tell his side of the story. All other witnesses so far have appeared before the inquiry in formal sessions at Leinster House.

But Mr Trichet wasn't prepared to accept that, and unlike other witnesses he was sent his questions in advance. At one point, it looked like he might not come at all.

Progress was eventually made when Taoiseach Enda Kenny dealt directly with current ECB boss Mario Draghi and a process was put in train to bring Mr Trichet to Dublin, where he is officially attending a speaking engagement at the Institute of International and European Affairs that the Banking Inquiry team has trooped out to.

So why the elaborate drama?

From the committee's point of view, Mr Trichet is a catch. He's the most high-profile individual to be questioned by the probe to date, especially after former IMF top official Ajai Chopra described the contents of the former ECB boss's letter to the late Brian Lenihan in advance of Ireland's entry into the bailout programme as an "outrageous overreach" of the bank's mandate.

Now identified very much with the events of the euro crisis, Mr Trichet is an unlikely central banker.

Born in Lyon, in December, 1942, Jean-Claude Anne Marie Louis Trichet originally studied mine engineering and worked in a coal mine during a school break, at a time when he was involved in Socialist Party politics.

His career path saw him move from the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, a breeding ground for French government officials, to a career at the French Treasury and eventually, in 2003, the ECB.

His leadership of the ECB during the financial crisis has been criticised, though he has argued that he foresaw the crisis as early as 2005.

Irish Independent

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