EU Ombudsman Opens Inquiry on Draghi’s Membership in Group of Thirty

Action follows activist group’s complaint that ECB is too cozy with private financiers

ECB President Mario Draghi, shown Thursday in Frankfurt.

ECB President Mario Draghi, shown Thursday in Frankfurt. PHOTO: BORIS ROESSLER/ZUMA PRESS
Ties between European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and an international group of financiers drew fresh scrutiny Friday, after the European Union’s top ethics official launched an inquiry into his membership of the group.
In a letter addressed to Mr. Draghi dated Jan. 17, European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, the chief investigator of maladministration in EU institutions, said she had opened an inquiry into his membership of the Group of Thirty, as well as the involvement of senior ECB officials in the work of the group.
The G30 is a private group of prominent central bankers, financiers, regulators and academics. Current members include Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney, UBS Chairman Axel Weber and former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. The group, which gathers twice a year, says it aims to deepen understanding of international economic and financial issues.
 The investigation, which follows a complaint by campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory, comes as the ECB has faced fresh scrutiny on its relationship with the financial institutions it supervises or regulates.
In 2015, Ms. O’Reilly asked the central bank to provide further details into an incident in which ECB Executive Board Member Benoît Coeuré disclosed potentially market-sensitive information to a limited audience.
The ECB subsequently took steps to boost transparency, including publishing the diaries of council members.
In her letter, Ms. O’Reilly asked the bank to facilitate an inspection of all relevant documents to understand the extent of its involvement with the G30. She said, however, that she had “taken no position in relation to any of these matters.”
The investigation is the second one by the ethics watchdog into links between the bank and the G30. A similar one in 2012, also spurred by a Corporate Europe Observatory complaint, was eventually dismissed by the previous ombudsman.
“If the European Central Bank does not take ethics seriously, how can they be expected to properly enforce monetary policy rules in the Eurozone?” said Kenneth Haar, a financial policy researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory. “Our research shows that high-level ECB staff are much too close to representatives of the banks they are meant to supervise, and that the info they give out at G30 meetings goes unchecked.”
The G30 “is very diverse forum that includes current and former central bank governors, ministers of finance, academics and private sector representatives, including bankers,” a spokesman for the ECB said
“As such we see it as a relevant forum to engage with, always remembering that we have a range of rules and instruments in place to avoid apparent or potential conflicts of interest,” he added.
The European Ombudsman investigates complaints from citizens, businesses and organizations, concerning problems with the administration at EU institutions, bodies and agencies or a possible breach of EU rules. The Ombudsman can make recommendations to the institutions concerned but can’t deal with complaints when they are already the subject of court cases.

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