Since Bloomberg made its request in August 2010, the ECB granted itself additional scope to withhold information if the stability of the financial system or a member state could be undermined. The power was added after the ECB was chosen by the European Parliament to chair the European Systemic Risk Board, a pan-EU supervisor that monitors markets and financial risk.
“This is a dummy standard which means whatever it wants it to mean and the courts grant it a margin of interpretative discretion,” said Gunnar Beck, a barrister and a reader in EU law at the University of London. “The ECB is becoming less transparent, even though it pays lip service to it.”
The ECB is under pressure from some policy makers to become more open as it embarks on more so-called non-standard measures aimed at staunching Europe’s crisis. The Frankfurt-based authority has been central to keeping Greek banks alive since the crisis began, providing loans and at times risking European taxpayers’ money in event of an outright default. The central bank owns about 45 billion euros of Greek government bonds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Governing Council member Erkki Liikanen said on Sept. 21 it was no longer sufficient for the ECB to publish just its decisions, but that it needed to “take one step forward and also describe the conversation, what each member has said.”
Unlike the Federal Reserve, the ECB doesn’t publish minutes of its discussions in the run up to a decision on interest rates or non-standard measures for 30 years, arguing that secrecy is necessary to shield its officials from political pressure in their home countries. Instead, Draghi holds a monthly press briefing after the rate decision.
The Federal Open Market Committee meets eight times a year in Washington. At every other meeting, Chairman Ben S. Bernanke holds a press conference following the release of the Fed’s statement to explain the actions. Minutes of each meeting, which summarize the discussions that took place, are released with a three-week lag and transcripts are published five years later.
In Europe, internal dissent only reaches the public if a member chooses to go public, as was the case with Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank president who has publicly opposed the ECB’s program to buy the government bonds of Spain and Italy if they request it. Weidmann said he wasn’t the only policy maker to have concerns about the proposal.
The ECB’s stance contrasts with the Fed, which has moved toward greater transparency, in part under pressure from the U.S. Congress and a lawsuit by Bloomberg News, said Roberto Perli, a former economist for the Federal Reserve’s Division of Monetary Affairs and a managing director at International Strategy & Investment Group in Washington.
Congress, through the Dodd-Frank Act, forced the Fed to reveal details of its lending through its discount window with a two-year delay. The Fed argued disclosure would stop banks from using the facility. The first release under the act was in September.
That followed the Fed’s release in March 2011 of more than 29,000 pages of documents, covering the discount window and several Fed emergency-lending programs established during t