De ECB wordt volwassen

BERKELEY – 2 augustus was de eerste verjaardag van het programma van “regelrechte monetaire transacties” (OMT) van de Europese Centrale Bank, op grond waarvan zij klaar staat om staatsobligaties op de secundaire markten op te kopen. De ECB had de OMT aangekondigd in reactie op de paniekverkopen van staatsobligaties van zuidelijke lidstaten van de eurozone, waardoor de zone dreigde te worden opgeblazen.

In één zin was de verjaardag een gelukkige. De rente op Spaanse en Italiaanse staatsobligaties, die door de angst voor het uiteenvallen van de eurozone tot onhoudbare hoogte was gestegen, daalde scherp na de bekendmaking. Sindsdien is die rente laag gebleven, ondanks weinig aantoonbare verbeteringen van de Europese economie. Maar misschien het best van alles is nog wel dat de ECB de steunfaciliteit nooit heeft hoeven activeren. Zij heeft op grond van het programma nog geen staatsobligaties hoeven opkopen. De belofte om in actie te komen was genoeg om de markten te kalmeren.

Maar het OMT-programma is ook veroordeeld omdat het het mandaat van de ECB zou hebben overschreden. Critici zien het als een sluwe poging om het verbod te omzeilen op directe aankopen door de ECB van staatsobligaties van lidstaten van de eurozone. Het programma zou een bron van 'moral hazard' (onverantwoordelijke risico's) zijn, omdat het de druk op spilzieke politici doet afnemen om de begroting in evenwicht te brengen en door te gaan met hervormingen. Bovendien zouden de voornaamste aandeelhouders van de ECB, vooral Duitsland, worden blootgesteld aan het risico van verliezen op hun bezittingen van Zuid-Europese staatsobligaties.

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