ECB staff say Christine Lagarde doing poor job as president, union survey finds

Financial Times

23 January 2024 - 11:21

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The results contrast with high marks given to predecessors Mario Draghi and Jean-Claude Trichet in past studies.

ECB staff say Christine Lagarde doing poor job as president, union survey finds

Christine Lagarde is performing poorly or very poorly as president of the European Central Bank, according to most respondents in a union survey of its staff that suggests internal dissent has surged in recent years.

The rising unhappiness with Lagarde’s leadership reported in the survey, seen by the Financial Times, is a setback for the ECB president just over halfway through her eight-year term in charge of eurozone monetary policy.

Slightly more than half of the 1,159 respondents said Lagarde’s performance was “poor” or “very poor”. That is well above the negative ratings of just under 9 per cent for Mario Draghi, who Lagarde replaced in 2019, and 14.5 per cent for his predecessor, Jean-Claude Trichet. The surveys about the two previous ECB presidents were done at the end of their terms.

The Ipso union that represents many of the ECB’s 5,089 staff, said the findings, first reported on by Politico, suggested Lagarde had “opened the flank” of the central bank to criticism because “her external activities are visibly more focused on matters not related to the core business of the ECB”. It criticised her for straying “too frequently” into politics — this month she said the potential re-election of Donald Trump as US president was “clearly a threat” to Europe.

The union added that Lagarde, as the first ECB president not to be a trained economist, did not have “the same technocratic standing than the previous two presidents in monetary policy topics”.

Some ECB officials believe her efforts to simplify its communication has upset staff — she called economists a “tribal clique” during an appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. They also think some frustration stems from a freeze on its budget and hiring in recent years.

The ECB responded by attacking the survey. It called it “flawed” and said the same person could have filled it in multiple times and some of its topics were the responsibility of a wider group than just the president or were outside the union’s remit.

It said a separate ECB survey of staff last year had a higher response rate of 60 per cent and found 80 per cent were “proud to work” at the central bank and 89 per cent said they believed in its mission and purpose.

Lagarde and the executive board were “fully focused on their mandate and have implemented policies to respond to unprecedented events in recent years such as the pandemic and wars”, it added.

In a sign of growing disillusionment among ECB staff, almost 60 per cent of those surveyed by Ipso said they had low or no trust at all in Lagarde and the executive board, which was up from just over 40 per cent a year ago.

Some of the dissent stems from anger over pay after the ECB granted staff a pay rise of just over 4 per cent last year, leaving employees with a real terms pay cut after inflation averaged 8.4 per cent in the eurozone in 2022. The bank is now offering staff a 4.7 per cent pay rise, which is below last year’s 5.4 per cent rate of eurozone inflation.

More than two-thirds of staff surveyed expressed opposition to the ECB’s decision last year to cancel its “career transition support scheme” that gave an extra payment to employees who left close to retirement age.

Just over half of respondents said they did not support Lagarde’s call for wage moderation and a similar proportion said they were “worried that inflation might not be back on track as expected”. However, there was more support for her push to take account of climate change in ECB decisions, which just over 57 per cent said they approved of.

Lagarde has also emphasised a push to improve gender diversity in the central bank. But more than half of staff surveyed said they did not support her approach to gender targets.

Women, who made up 37 per cent of respondents, were more supportive of Lagarde’s diversity policies than men. But satisfaction levels with the policies were lower for both men and women than under Draghi.

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