EU Ethics Committee clears Mário Centeno

 In Balance of Payments, News

The Ethics Committee of the European Central Bank has concluded that the governor of the Bank of Portugal did not act in a way that compromised his independence in the case of the prime minister’s invitation to replace him, it was announced on Friday.

“The Ethics Committee considers that Mário Centeno did not act in a way that compromised his independence as a member of the Governing Council of the ECB or harmed the interests of the Union” reports the Lusa press agency.
Consequently, he has complied with the requirements of the ECB’s Single Code of Conduct,” reads the reply sent by ECB President Christine Lagarde to MEPs who questioned her about the case.
The missive included the opinion, signed by Erkki Liikanen, which considers that the “Ethics Committee has found no indication that at any time the governor of the Bank of Portugal, Mário Centeno expressed or confirmed his intention to accept the suggestion of the prime minister, António Costa”.
At issue is the controversy over the fact that the name of Mário Centeno (a former minister of finance in previous Socialist Party governments) was proposed by the current prime minister to replace him in the post (after António Costa resigned due to a justice investigation), which led to criticism from opposition parties, who considered that Centeno’s independence as governor of the central bank was in question.
The Ethics Committee considered that Mário Centeno’s independence “cannot be considered to be jeopardised”, since he was not formally invited to take up the post of prime minister, nor would he “be inclined to accept it”.
The opinion also points out that the fact that the governor of the Bank of Portugal did not notify Christine Lagarde and/or the Ethics Committee itself, as would have been required by the Single Code, can be seen as a sign that he had no intention of taking on the role of prime minister or that his reflections had not yet matured enough to require concrete action”.
The Ethics Committee details that it requested and obtained knowledge of the facts and received confirmation that, in the course of the events immediately following António Costa’s resignation as prime minister, Mário Centeno “maintained his full working hours at the Bank of Portugal and total discretion”, with the aim of “protecting the interests” of the institution he leads.
Speaking to the Financial Times on Sunday 12 November, the governor of the Bank of Portugal said that he had “an invitation from the Portuguese president and prime minister to reflect and consider the possibility of leading the government” and that he was “a long way from making a decision”.
In reaction, in the early hours of Sunday to Monday, the country’s president published a note denying that he had invited anyone to head the government, including Mário Centeno, or authorised any contact to this effect.
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa’s statement led Centeno to correct his statement: “It is unequivocal that the country’s president did not invite me to head the government,” since he chose to dissolve the country’s parliament, Mário Centeno said in a statement.
Mário Centeno’s behaviour led to an extraordinary meeting of the Bank of Portugal’s Ethics Committee, to be evaluated, which considered that the governor had complied with the general duties of conduct and “acted with the required reserve”.
However, it added that “on an objective level, subsequent political and media developments could damage the Bank’s image”, considering that “the defence of the institution is even more important in a period such as the current one”.
In this sense, the committee recommended that “the governor, the management and the Bank as a whole remain committed to safeguarding the image and reputation of the Bank of Portugal”.
The board of directors of the Bank of Portugal, led by the governor, considered that “the conditions for the independence of the Bank of Portugal and its bodies for the exercise of their duties have always been met”.