The European Central Bank said Thursday it would adjust the guideposts it uses to set monetary policy, giving its more room to deploy crisis measures even if inflation rises above its official target. The bank also said it would begin using its clout in bond markets to fight climate change.
After concluding an 18-month review of its strategy, the bank’s Governing Council said Thursday that it would no longer aim to keep inflation below, but close to, 2 percent. Rather, it would simply aim for 2 percent and be ready to accept “a transitory period in which inflation is moderately above target.”
The seemingly minor change gives the bank space to keep pumping credit into the eurozone economy even if annual inflation rises above 2 percent, as long as policymakers think the jump is temporary.
That situation may soon materialize. Inflation in the eurozone has been hovering around 2 percent in recent months, and could rise above the target as economies reopen and shortages of needed products like semiconductors become more acute. According to the previous strategy, the central bank would be obligated to raise interest rates or take other measures to slow the economy, even if the crisis was not over.
By law, controlling prices in the 19 countries of the eurozone is the central bank’s main priority, so any adjustment to its approach to inflation has broad implications for the interest rates that businesses and consumers pay on loans, and for employment and economic growth.
The bank also said it would take climate change into account when it buys corporate bonds as part of its stimulus measures. The bond purchases, made with newly created money, are a means to stimulate borrowing and economic growth. But in the future, the European Central Bank will favor companies that have made sincere efforts to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they produce.
In practice, the central bank has already provided ample evidence it was willing to bend its own rules to fight the pandemic, or the debt crisis that nearly destroyed the euro a decade ago.
“We do not expect the new strategy to shift the outlook for the E.C.B.’s monetary policy stance significantly,” Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank, said in a note to clients ahead of the announcement. “Instead, it will formally codify the approach which the E.C.B. has pursued anyway. This will make it easier for the E.C.B. to communicate with markets and the public.”
The European Central Bank’s new approach is sure to generate criticism from places like Germany, where fear of inflation runs deep. Jens Weidmann, a member of the Governing Council and president of the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, has called for the European Central Bank to begin dialing back its stimulus to ensure that inflation does not get out of control. He has also said that climate change was not a matter for central banks.
But Mr. Weidmann belongs to a minority on the Governing Council. The central bank said in a statement that it believed that climate change was relevant to “inflation, output, employment, interest rates, investment and productivity; financial stability; and the transmission of monetary policy.”