The European Central Bank (ECB) is one of the world’s most important central banks, responsible for monetary policy covering the 16 member States of the Eurozone. It was established by the European Union (EU) in 1998 with its headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.
The primary objective of the ECB is to maintain price stability within the Eurozone, or in other words to keep inflation low. The Governing Council defined price stability as inflation (Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices) of below, but close to, 2%. Unlike for example the United States Federal Reserve Bank, the ECB has only one primary objective with other objectives subordinate to it.
The key tasks of the ECB are to define and implement the monetary policy for the Eurozone, to conduct foreign exchange operations, to take care of the foreign reserves of the European System of Central Banks and promote smooth operation of the money market infrastructure under the Target payments system.
Furthermore, it has the exclusive right to authorise the issuance of euro banknotes. Member states can issue euro coins but the amount must be authorised by the ECB beforehand (upon the introduction of the euro, the ECB also had exclusive right to issue coins. The bank must also co-operate within the EU and internationally with third bodies and entities. Finally it contributes to maintaining a stable financial system and monitoring the banking sector. The latter can be seen, for example, in the bank’s intervention during the 2007 credit crisis when it loaned billions of euros to banks to stabilise the financial system. In December 2007 the ECB decided in conjunction with the Federal Reserve under a program called Term auction facility to improve dollar liquidity in the eurozone and to stabilise the money market.