Jitters calmed and unity maintained as Central Bank role offers compromise
ECB president Mario Draghi speaks during a news conference yesterday.
Analysis:The main worry was that the deal would be seen as illegal monetary financing
Mario Draghi’s assertion yesterday that the European Central Bank “unanimously took note” of the Anglo Irish Bank liquidation was as close as he came to confirming the deal to scrap the promissory note scheme was done.
The implicit message was clear. Despite some discomfort in Frankfurt at the new departure, no one on the ECB governing council was objecting. That is crucial.
After many long months of doubt and delay, this was sufficient to give the go-ahead for a complex plan to replace the dreaded notes with long-term government bonds.
If the main financial benefit for Ireland is to reduce the national borrowing requirement by €20 billion over the next 10 years, the essential kicker for the ECB is that former Anglo will no longer be leaning on it for €40 billion in short-term funding known as exceptional liquidity assistance.
The overnight liquidation of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, as Anglo is now known, essentially means that the ECB gets to seize its collateral for these loans.
With the promissory notes now out of the picture, the ECB has the right to the long-term bonds the Government will issue in their place. These, however, will be held by the Central Bank of Ireland on behalf of the ECB.
Amid anxiety in Frankfurt that any deal with Ireland could trigger legal challenge in the German courts, the internal debate was essentially led by the two top Germans in the bank. The chief worry was that new arrangement for Ireland would be construed as illegal monetary financing, the technical term for the printing of money for a member state.
In the vanguard of those supporting a new deal for Ireland was Jörg Asmussen, the ECB executive board member who leads its engagement with bailout recipients. Chief of the sceptics was Jens Weidmann, Germany’s member of the ECB governing council via his presidency of the mighty Bundesbank.
Both men served in the Merkel administration before entering the world of the ECB. Although sources in the eurosystem of central banks say it would be wrong to characterise the internal debate over Ireland as a face-off between the two Germans, each is said to represent different strands of the argument within the institution.
For Draghi, who has shown no great enthusiasm for the new arrangement, the essential task was to keep everyone on board.
Unity remains essential, particularly after Weidmann objected to a new bond-buying policy last September which brought the ECB to the limits of its legal mandate.