ECB Releases Letter at Urging of EU Ombudsman

6 November 2014

The Governing Council of the European Central Bank Nov. 6 decided to publish a letter written four years by former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet to then Irish Finance minister Brian Lenihan.

The announcement said the release of the document “honoured” a request in March by the European Ombudsman that the ECB reconsider its previous refusal to disclose the letter. (See previous article.)

The Governing Council also decided to disclose three other letters that were part of correspondence between the ECB and the Irish authorities about the crisis in the Irish economy at the time, according to the announcement.

The significance of the letter was addressed in an article  by Arthus Beesley in the Irish Times, who said:

The exchange of letters between the then president of the European Central Bank Jean-Claude Trichet and the late Brian Lenihan reveals the then finance minister came under extraordinary pressure to submit to the will of the European Central Bank (ECB) in the run-up to Ireland’s bailout in the final weeks of 2010.

The European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, welcomed the decision.

The ombudsman had argued that the ECB’s reasons for refusing access were no longer valid, more than three years after Gavin Sheridan, an Irish journalist, filed the initial request. He wrote about the release on his blog and in the Irish Examiner.

O’Reilly said:

The letter should clearly have been released much earlier. The economic crisis caused great hardship for the Irish people. The least decision-makers can do in such difficult times is to provide for maximum possible transparency when it comes to explaining actions that directly affect people’s lives. The failure to release also provoked intense speculation about its contents which in turn impacted on the public and political debate not just about the financial crisis but also about the role of the ECB and other EU institutions in the determination of Ireland’s economic welfare. It is hardly desirable that such an important debate should be shaped around the imagined contents of a letter.

After inspecting the letter in 2014, O’Reilly concluded that the ECB had been right to refuse access to the document at the time of the request for access. However, as more than three years had passed since the letter was sent, she proposed that the ECB disclose the letter in order to underline its commitment to transparency.


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