From Scientific to Governing Principle: How Re-Purposing “Independence” Unmasked the ECB’s Embeddedness

Stephanie L. Mudge, University of California, Davis
Antoine Vauchez, CNRS/Université Paris 1-Sorbonne

This paper offers a study in the transformation of central bank “independence” between the 1990s and the present. Born as a principle of scientific banking, independence was remade into a principle of internal government in the hands of the European Central Bank (ECB), explicitly underpinning its hiring, employment, promotion, and labor practices. We draw on legal, archival and interview-based evidence to trace how this repurposing was accomplished in the legal arena (especially the European Court of Justice [ECJ] and the German Federal Constitutional Court), used as a lever to insulate the ECB from both German and European civil service and labor regulations, and then expanded “in the breach”—that is, in the uncertain period following the 2008 financial crisis. In the latter period we show that the ECB’s rapidly growing jurisdiction, which altered the size and structure of the bank, also laid bare the blurry distinction between the ECB’s “independent” managerial practices and austerity-style labor market reforms and employment practices in the world beyond. Indeed, after 2008 the internal politics of ECB labor-management relations intensified in ways that paralleled the deepening politics of austerity in Brussels and the national capitals of the Eurozone, manifesting in the expanding membership of the ECB’s trade union, the successful organization of a first-ever strike of ECB staff in 2009 (against pension reforms) and, by 2011, a forcing of the ECB’s hand, precisely because of its claim to independence, to use its own resources to support and sustain internal labor representation. The irony, of course, was that the repurposing of independence as a managerial principle laid bare the multiple ways in the ECB is, in fact, deeply embedded in European and financial governing institutions and the politics thereof.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 211. Rise and Trajectories of Financial Capital