Tag Archives: Open market operation

German Federal Constitutional Court vs. European Central Bank

In the FT, Claire Jones reports about the German Federal Constitutional Court’s decision to refer a case against the European Central Bank’s PSPP program to the European Court of Justice.

“In the view of the [court] significant reasons indicate that the ECB decisions governing the asset purchase programme violate the prohibition of monetary financing and exceed the monetary policy mandate of the European Central Bank.” …

While Germany’s constitutional court said the OMT programme was legal, it stipulated, based on an earlier ECJ judgment, that bond purchases had to meet a number of requirements. On Tuesday the Karlsruhe-based court said there were “several factors” to indicate that one of these requirements — that bonds must be purchased on secondary markets and not directly from governments — was being violated under QE.

From the court’s statement:

… any programme relating to the purchase of government bonds on the secondary market must provide sufficient guarantees to effectively ensure observance of the prohibition of monetary financing. The Senate presumes that the Court of Justice of the European Union deems the conditions which it developed, and which limit the scope of the ECB policy decision on the Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) programme of 6 September 2012, to be legally binding criteria. Against that background, the Senate further presumes that contempt of these criteria would amount to a violation of competences also with regard to other programmes relating to the purchases of government bonds.

… several factors indicate that the PSPP decision nevertheless violates Art. 123 AEUV, namely the fact that details of the purchases are announced in a manner that could create a de facto certainty on the markets that issued government bonds will, indeed, be purchased by the Eurosystem; that it is not possible to verify compliance with certain minimum periods between the issuing of debt securities on the primary market and the purchase of the relevant securities on the secondary market; that to date all purchased bonds were – without exception – held until maturity; and furthermore that the purchases include bonds that carry a negative yield from the outset.

… the PSPP decision can no longer be qualified as a monetary policy measure but instead must be deemed to constitute a measure that is primarily of an economic policy nature.

… the ECB Governing Council may be able to modify the rules on risk sharing within the Eurosystem in a way that would result in risks for the profit and loss accounts of the national central banks and also threaten the overall budgetary responsibility of national parliaments. Against that background, the question arises whether an unlimited distribution of risks between the national central banks of the Eurosystem regarding bonds in default where such bonds were issued by central governments or by issuers of equivalent status would violate Art. 123 and Art. 125 TFEU as well as Art. 4(2) TEU (in conjunction with Art. 79(3) GG).

Previous, related post.

A Plan for Greece

In the FT, Willem Buiter proposes a 5 point plan for a way out of the Greek debt crisis:

  • Greece effectively regains sovereignty and can do whatever it pleases, with some exceptions, see below.
  • Greek debt held by the ECB is bought by the ESM: The ESM extends long-term, low-interest financing to Greece which Greece uses to repay the ECB debt. “Since most of Greece’s other sovereign liabilities have long maturities and deferred interest payments, payments to creditors would fall sharply.”
  • No further financing by the IMF, the ESM or other official sources is extended to Greece.
  • The ECB does no longer accept any Greek government debt paper as collateral or for purchase.
  • Commercial banks in Greece are recapitalized or restructured using funds from the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund and other sources. The ECB bars Greek banks from accepting any Greek government debt paper.

The plan would require additional European taxpayer money for the ECB-ESM debt swap and the bank recapitalization. It would isolate the Greek banks from the mayhem triggered by government default.

Update: 7 July 2015

A related proposal by Willem Buiter and Ebrahim Rahbari.

The European Court of Justice’s Verdict on OMT

The court ruled (full text) that

[t]his programme for the purchase of government bonds on secondary markets does not exceed the powers of the ECB in relation to monetary policy and does not contravene the prohibition of monetary financing of Member States. …

The Court finds that the OMT programme, in view of its objectives and the instruments provided for achieving them, falls within monetary policy and therefore within the powers of the ESCB. …

The Court also states that the OMT programme does not infringe the principle of proportionality. …

The Court states that this prohibition does not prevent the ESCB from adopting a programme such as the OMT programme and implementing it under conditions which do not result in the ESCB’s intervention having an effect equivalent to that of a direct purchase of government bonds from the public authorities and bodies of the Member States.

Claire Jones reports in the FT.

It is now up to the German Bundesverfassungsgericht to consider the ruling. The German court’s previous considerations can be found here.