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The Lonely Fight of Monetary Dogmatist Axel Weber - ECB Handling of Euro Crisis

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The head of the German central bank, Axel Weber, is openly critical of the way the European Central Bank has handled the euro's debt woes. He is fighting to uphold purist monetary principles that are untenable in the current crisis. His chances of succeeding Jean-Claude Trichet as ECB chief are waning as a result.

Jean-Claude Trichet had chosen a complicated topic for his presentation. The president of the European Central Bank (ECB) stood on a podium in Frankfurt's Alte Oper opera house and talked about "macro-prudential regulation," "correlated risk positions" and "anti-cyclical capital buffers." These are dense subjects even for the bankers and financial experts in the audience, and a leaden sense of fatigue soon spread throughout the hall. Many listeners sank deep down into their seats, some stretched out their legs, and a few had drifted off to sleep.

One person, however, was wide awake in the front row. Axel Weber, the president of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, had brought along some work from the office. He fished documents out of a brown envelope, leafed through notes, studied diagrams and tables, and corrected manuscripts. Then he turned to the two smartphones that were lying on the table in front of him. Weber checked e-mails and the news, and typed out orders. Finally, he pushed back his chair, rushed over to his press officer on the other side of the room, and discussed how he should react to an agency report that he had just received.

 Weber had accomplished quite a bit by the time Trichet finally stepped down from the podium amid a round of subdued applause. On the way to his seat, the ECB president had to pass by Weber. The German and the Frenchman shook hands, but the gesture seemed wooden and awkward. They didn't smile, they didn't look at each other, and they didn't talk. Then they walked off in opposite directions.

Last week, the European Central Bank reaffirmed its decision from last May to buy up government bonds from ailing EU member states to support the euro. At the time, Weber had voted against the move and, riding roughshod over all the usual customs, had made his vote public.

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