Globalisation has led to an integration of the various aspects of people’s lives from consumer habits to cultural aspects. The economy has not been indifferent to this phenomenon and the relations between most countries have been internationalised so that there is more and more dependency between them and for that reason greater co-operation between governments and between the central banks of each country.
There are more and more processes of regional integration, which has led geographically close countries to eliminate barriers to trade between each other and generate an economic bloc that is more competitive with the rest of the world. But not all forms of integration are equal, there are some deeper ones that allow macroeconomic policies to be co-ordinated and create a single currency and other unions that simply reduce trade barriers between countries without going beyond a privilege in trade with certain countries.
The European Union has developed a legal and political system that promotes continental integration through common policies that cover different spheres of European society, although the origin of this union is especially economic. The form of integration was a monetary union where a single currency was created to facilitate transactions between countries, but some countries belonging to the European Union avoided giving up their control over their currency and therefore did not adopt the Euro as a transaction unit.
In order to achieve monetary union, certain requirements of fiscal homogeneity need to be met in order to synchronise their macroeconomic policies, which is why some European countries have first had to meet some public deficit targets in order to be part of the integration. Being part of a monetary union, the member countries give part of their sovereignty to the European Central Bank, in charge of issuing the common currency and fixing the monetary policy of the economic union.
The countries that make up this economic agreement have:
- Preferences among members to boost trade within their borders.
- Elimination of trade barriers for members of the agreement.
- Common external protection.
- Free mobility of capital, people and productive factors
- Economic policy coordination
- Unique economic policy
The first historic step for the consolidation of the European Central Bank occurred in 1998, where the decision was made to build an economic and monetary union with free capital mobility within Europe, a central monetary authority and a single monetary policy within the European area. But before formally taking the decision two previous events had occurred that allowed the creation of the bank.
- In 1990, free capital mobility is allowed among some European countries, as well as greater co-operation among central banks, which allows a convergence in the economy of several European countries.
- The European Monetary Institute (EMI) was established in 1994, central banks were prohibited from continuing to grant loans, monetary policy co-ordination was further increased, economic convergence followed and the establishment of central bank independence to take the necessary measures for the good performance of the economy.
Already in 1999 stronger steps were taken for the monetary and economic union, such as the introduction of the Euro, the establishment of a single monetary policy set by the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) and the conversion rates were set.
Since the 1st of January, 1999 the European Central Bank has been responsible for conducting the monetary policy for the eurozone consisting of 19 state members. To be part of this union, each country had to comply with certain economic and legal criteria. The following chart shows the main stages of the European Central Bank.
Graph 74. Stages of the European Central Bank.
The European Central Bank has a legal status under international law and is considered an international institution. The Euro system is composed of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the National Central Banks (NCBs) of the countries that adopted the Euro. The Euro system and the European Central Banks system will continue to co-exist as long as there are members of the economic union who have decided not to adopt the Euro. The following chart shows the member countries of the eurozone.
Graph 74A. Euro Area 1999-2015. Retrieved 16th February 2018, from https://www.ecb.europa.eu/euro/intro/html/map.en.html
The main objective of the bank and its monetary policy is to maintain price stability. As complementary objectives, the bank must help the economies of member countries in their growth and in the dynamics of the labour market, but without these variables diverting the main objective of keeping inflation under control.
For the bank, price stability is defined as an annual increase in the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for the entire eurozone below 2% and a long-term target of 2%.
The European Central Bank has four major subdivisions that make all the decisions to fulfil the bank’s mandate.
- The Executive Board
- The Governing Council
- The General Council
- The Supervisory Board
The Executive Board
All the members of the board are appointed by the European Council. Each member is chosen for a period of eight years without the possibility of renewing. The board meets normally every Tuesday and is composed of:
- The President
- The Vice-President
- Four other members
The committee is responsible for the implementation of the monetary policy defined by the governing council and the instructions given by the National Central Banks (NCBs). It is also in charge of the daily management of the bank and prepares the meetings of the governing council.
The Governing Council
It is the decision-making body of the bank, composed of six members of the executive committee as well as the governors of the central banks of the 19-member countries of the Euro-system. It is chaired by the president of the ECB. They meet every six weeks and publish the minutes of the meetings with all the necessary information four weeks after the meeting. In total it is composed of 25 members with the accession of Lithuania in 2015 and there is a rotation of the votes in the meetings as follows:
Rotation of voting rights in the Governing Council
Graph 75. Rotation of voting rights in the Governing Council in 2018. Retrieved 16th February 2018, from https://www.ecb.europa.eu/ecb/orga/decisions/govc/html/votingrights.en.html
The responsibilities are to define the monetary policy of the euro area and in particular to establish the interest rate at which commercial banks will be given resources, in addition to the supply of Euro-system reserves.
The General Council
It is composed of the president of the ECB, vice president of the ECB and the governors of the 28 National Central Banks (NCBs) that belong to the European Union, where 19 countries are of the euro area and 9 countries of non-euro areas. Other members who attend the meetings, but without the right to vote are the president of the Council of the European Union and members of the European Commission.
The general council carries out the tasks assumed by the European Monetary Institute (EMI) that the ECB should execute as the last phase the economic and monetary union since not all the member states adopted the Euro. Its functions are the collection of statistical information, preparation of the annual report of the ECB among others. This body will be dissolved when all the members of the economic union assume the same currency.
The Supervisory Board
The supervisory board meets twice a month to discuss, plan and carry out supervisory tasks of the bank’s departments. It consists of, the president appointed for a period of 5 years, vice president elected from among the members of the executive board, four representatives of the ECB and representatives of national supervisors
In conclusion, there is a certain similarity between the way monetary policy decisions are made between the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve since it is done through voting by the governors of the banks that make up the central bank and take turns the votes in the meetings. The difference is that the rotation of the votes of the districts that make up the Federal Reserve is annual while the votes of the banks that make up the ECB are rotated monthly as shown in the graph above.
Regarding the mandate of the central banks, there is a greater similarity between the ECB and the Bank of England since both have to maintain price stability as its main objective, and the objective of the annual growth of inflation is 2%. Although they also worry about economic growth and the unemployment rate, these objectives are secondary. While for the Federal Reserve the three variables are equally important, so by mandate they are responsible for maintaining low unemployment rates, stable economic growth with good growth rates and an inflation rate that is close to 2%.