IT IS meant to be an example of European unity, but in response to the euro zone’s fiscal crisis the European Central Bank (ECB) is having a fight on several national fronts. Even as the bank’s dealers were pushing cash into the bond markets of selected euro-zone countries, its president, Jean-Claude Trichet, was trying to reassure Germans that the ECB had not lost its inflation-fighting zeal or its independence. He told Der Spiegel that it was “ridiculous” to believe that the decision to buy bonds, in the early hours of May 10th, was in response to political pressures. In a separate interview, he insisted that the bank’s monetary policy was unchanged and that its actions would not spur inflation.


To back up that claim, the central bank conducted a special auction of one-week deposits on May 18th to “sterilise”, or soak up, the euro 16.5 billion ($20.4 billion) of cash it had created by buying bonds. Banks offered almost ten times what was required, which meant the ECB had to pay an interest rate of just 0.28%. The exercise was largely cosmetic given how much liquidity the ECB supplies to banks. But appearances count. “It’s as if the ECB has sinned and has to do penance,” says Julian Callow at Barclays Capital.


How did it get into such a pickle? In part because flaws in the construction of the euro left Mr Trichet with little choice: there was no other institution in place to help individual countries in crisis. The mainstay of the mutual-support package announced on May 10th, a euro 440 billion “special-purpose vehicle” that will guarantee loans to governments, will eventually fill that gap. In the meantime, the ECB had to mount a holding operation. The alternative might have been financial collapse.

欧洲央行是如何到了这步田地的?一部分原因是由于在设定之初欧元就存在的缺陷。尤其是对于在欧元区的单个国家来说,由于没有独立的货币政策,使得他们采取不了任何有效的措施来应对危机。而这些缺陷也让特里谢先生束手无策。在5月10日公布的一揽子相互支持的计划中, 4400亿欧元的“特别目的途径”救助金将保证政府的贷款,并且最终填补了这一空白。与此同时,欧洲央行不得不启动自己的运转机制。而另一种方法可能导致金融崩溃。

But the ECB shares some of the blame. One failing was not to anticipate sooner that banks in countries with fragile public finances and large private debts could be cut off from foreign finance. Its policymakers were too attached to the idea that the euro protects against all ills. In the early months of the global financial crisis, the ECB’s governing council insisted that “the euro area does not suffer from major imbalances.” This was both a dig at America (with its big current-account deficit) and a statement of startling complacency. A divide between high-saving, asset-rich and productive countries in the north and an uncompetitive, debt-ridden south is the source of the euro zone’s present troubles. Yet as recently as March, Mr Trichet was boasting about the “special” virtue of the euro in securing cross-border financing for its members.更多信息请访问:


This sense of unique European merit is undimmed. Asked by Der Spiegel to respond to German fears about inflation, Mr Trichet said the ECB’s actions are “totally different” to the quantitative easing pursued by the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, because its bond purchases are sterilised. Even so it is struggling to escape the charge that it is providing support for governments’ fiscal policies.


That is what many in Germany had long feared. Axel Weber, the head of Germany’s central bank, has been publicly critical of the ECB’s decision to buy bonds. He is known to be headstrong and a champion of monetarist orthodoxy. But ECB-watchers think Mr Weber had little choice but to voice his reservations, if only to quell discord within the Bundesbank. “In Germany the feeling is that two red lines have been crossed,” says Thomas Mayer at Deutsche Bank—that each country is responsible for its own public finances and that the ECB would never be an agent of fiscal policy. German anxieties might be pacified were Mr Weber to succeed Mr Trichet when he steps down next year.