December 8, 2014 / 12:27 PM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 1-ECB's Nowotny warns of 'massive' economic weakness

* Austria's Nowotny distances himself from hard-line Germany

* Central banker says printing money could help economy (Adds background, detail)

By John O'Donnell and Paul Carrel

FRANKFURT, Dec 8 (Reuters) - The euro zone's economy is weakening 'massively', one of the European Central Bank's policymakers warned on Monday, saying that printing fresh money to buy state bonds could help to stop the slide.

Speaking in Germany, the head of neighbouring Austria's central bank advocated a more ambitious course for the European Central Bank, distancing himself from Germany, where many politicians and its central bank oppose such money printing.

"We see a massive weakening in the euro zone economy," said Ewald Nowotny, a member of the ECB's Governing Council, the body that would vote on any decision to buy government bonds.

Asked whether such so-called quantitative easing could address the problem, he said: "As a supportive measure in the context of a comprehensive plan, it can certainly be valuable."

Nowotny's view is important because there is a deep division of views over how the ECB should act, with Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann sceptical about the need for printing money.

Nowotny is considered a swing voter among the 24-strong group, including 18 national central banker governors, whom ECB President Mario Draghi will have to convince before the programme can begin.

His remarks came days after Standard & Poor's cut Italy's sovereign credit rating to one notch above junk, saying weak growth and poor competitiveness undermined the sustainability of its huge public debt.

The downgrade is a blow for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who came to office in February pledging an ambitious reform agenda to lift Italy out of recession but has seen the economy continue to shrink.

Reporting by Paul Carrel and John O'Donnell; Editing by Larry King

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