Bundesbank boss Weber stepping down

Germany said Friday that Bundesbank boss Axel Weber, thought to have been a front-runner to become European Central Bank president, was leaving "for personal reasons" on April 30.

Bundesbank boss Weber stepping down
Photo: DPA

“The chancellor and finance minister … have taken note of this decision with respect for Professor Weber’s personal reasons. A successor will be named in the coming weeks,” a government statement said.

Such a move would be a “clear slap in the face of the German government,” Carsten Brzeski, economist at ING Belgium, said earlier this week when the first rumours of Weber’s exit emerged.

The 53-year-old Weber, seen as a hardliner on ECB policy and practice, was in pole position and apparently enjoying solid government backing in the race to succeed Frenchman Jean-Claude Trichet in October up to now.

Trichet’s successor would be only the third person to head the ECB, the world’s most powerful central bank after the US Federal Reserve, setting interest rates for some 330 million people in 17 nations.

The first person to be in charge of monetary policy for most of Europe from the heights of a sky-scraper in Germany’s financial centre Frankfurt was a Dutchman, the late Wim Duisenberg.

The head of the European Commission is Portuguese, the European Union’s president a Belgian and its foreign policy chief is British – Jose Manuel Barroso, Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton, respectively.

By not pushing for one its own in any of these positions, Europe’s economic powerhouse was widely seen as having its eye on the ECB presidency instead.

“Over the last years, the German government was often left behind when international top jobs were filled,” ING’s Brzeski said.

“It always looked as if the entire focus was on securing the next ECB presidency, with Weber as the ideal candidate.”

Weber getting the job would also have enabled Merkel to have Germany’s interests be heard even more loudly and clearly just as the ECB scrambles to cope with a crisis that has shaken the eurozone to its very foundations.

Last year, Greece and Ireland were forced to go cap in hand for bailouts worth tens of billions of euros and investors fear that Belgium, Portugal and the much larger Spain and even Italy could be next.

The bailouts for Greece and Ireland forced Merkel to put astronomical amounts of German taxpayers’ money on the table to guarantee debt sold by Athens and Dublin.

This has gone down badly with German voters and Merkel, who faces the first of seven state elections in 2011 on February 20, has set as its price fiscal austerity and much closer economic and fiscal cooperation in Europe.

But Weber has ruffled feathers in recent months with attacks on the ECB’s contribution to fighting the crisis, the purchase of €76.5 billion worth of government bonds.

According to media reports, a lack of backing from Berlin gave him cold feet on going for the ECB job. He is now rumoured to be considering a quieter life in a lucrative job at Deutsche Bank, Germany’s biggest private bank.

And with only around eight months until Trichet steps down, Berlin does not have an obvious candidate to parachute in as Weber’s replacement.

The German most widely touted so far, Klaus Regling, who heads the eurozone’s rescue fund, has no central bank experience.

“A strong hand and high profile candidate is required to successfully take the ECB forward and out of the exceptional current policy,” LBG economist Kenneth Broux said.

“I think the market would not simply accept that an outsider gets the job.”


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German consumer prices set to rise steeply amid war in Ukraine

Russia's war in Ukraine is slowing down the economy and accelerating inflation in Germany, the Ifo Institute has claimed.

German consumer prices set to rise steeply amid war in Ukraine

According to the Munich-based economics institute, inflation is expected to rise from 5.1 to 6.1 percent in March. This would be the steepest rise in consumer prices since 1982.

Over the past few months, consumers in Germany have already had to battle with huge hikes in energy costs, fuel prices and increases in the price of other everyday commodities.


With Russia and Ukraine representing major suppliers of wheat and grain, further price rises in the food market are also expected, putting an additional strain on tight incomes. 

At the same time, the ongoing conflict is set to put a dampener on the country’s annual growth forecasts. 

“We only expect growth of between 2.2 and 3.1 percent this year,” Ifo’s head of economic research Timo Wollmershäuser said on Wednesday. 

Due to the increase in the cost of living, consumers in Germany could lose around €6 billion in purchasing power by the end of March alone.

With public life in Germany returning to normal and manufacturers’ order books filling up, a significant rebound in the economy was expected this year. 

But the war “is dampening the economy through significantly higher commodity prices, sanctions, increasing supply bottlenecks for raw materials and intermediate products as well as increased economic uncertainty”, Wollmershäuser said.

Because of the current uncertainly, the Ifo Institute calculated two separate forecasts for the upcoming year.

In the optimistic scenario, the price of oil falls gradually from the current €101 per barrel to €82 by the end of the year, and the price of natural gas falls in parallel.

In the pessimistic scenario, the oil price rises to €140 per barrel by May and only then falls to €122 by the end of the year.

Energy costs have a particularly strong impact on private consumer spending.

They could rise between 3.7 and 5 percent, depending on the developments in Ukraine, sanctions on Russia and the German government’s ability to source its energy. 

On Wednesday, German media reported that the government was in the process of thrashing out an additional set of measures designed to support consumers with their rising energy costs.

The hotly debated measures are expected to be finalised on Wednesday evening and could include increased subsidies, a mobility allowance, a fuel rebate and a child bonus for families. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s proposals for future energy price relief

In one piece of positive news, the number of unemployed people in Germany should fall to below 2.3 million, according to the Ifo Institute.

However, short-time work, known as Kurzarbeit in German, is likely to increase significantly in the pessimistic scenario.