Wednesday 23 October 2019

Unfinished business is in the air as ECB meets


Mario Draghi heads his last retreat as ECB President. Photo: Bloomberg
Mario Draghi heads his last retreat as ECB President. Photo: Bloomberg

Piotr Skolimowski

A sense of unfinished business is likely to hang over this week's gathering of European Central Bank officials at the final academic summer retreat of Mario Draghi's reign.

It is five years since the ECB President established his answer to the Federal Reserve's Jackson Hole symposium.

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In that time, the alarm at the deflation risk which gripped him and his colleagues in 2014 has given way to unrelenting frustration at the frailty of inflation, laced with dread at the prospect of another slowdown.

Policy makers will convene with economists in Sintra, Portugal, to laud two decades of the eurozone while pondering what tools they have to defend the economy from a barrage of US trade threats and political strife such as Brexit.

Underscoring their relative impotence, they will be talking just as the Fed - which has much more room to cut interest rates if needed - meets in Washington.

"The ECB pulled the euro-area economy from the brink of disaster several times," said Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research, who will take part in a panel on the future of the monetary union.

"The ECB can't do more than provide liquidity and the confidence that it will act whenever it has to, so the fault is really in the politicians' camp for not having done enough."

Mr Draghi has said fiscal policy will need to play a "fundamental role" in the next downturn.

That line of thinking could be echoed by Olivier Blanchard, the former International Monetary Fund chief economist, who has called for larger deficit spending and an overhaul of European fiscal rules.


Irish Independent

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