May 5, 2020 / 3:00 PM / a month ago

Markus Kerber: the soft-spoken professor behind the ECB's legal setback

BERLIN, May 5 (Reuters) - Markus Kerber cultivates an image that is at odds with his role as a thorn in the European Central Bank’s side.

The soft-spoken, avuncular public finance professor at Berlin’s Technical University has launched a series of legal challenges to the ECB’s bond-buying programmes since 2010.

None succeeded until now. But, weighing his complaint, Germany’s top court ruled on Tuesday that the Bundesbank must stop buying government bonds under the ECB’s flagship stimulus scheme within three months unless the ECB can prove the purchases are needed.

Kerber’s legal challenges make him a hero to German fiscal conservatives. His European Union targets extend beyond the ECB.

A 2008 legal challenge of which he was co-author against the Lisbon Treaty, the EU’s legal cornerstone, led Germany’s Constitutional Court to rule that there were areas where Germany’s constitution took precedence over EU treaties.

Born in 1956, his views on sound money - money that is not prone to sudden appreciation or depreciation in purchasing power over the long term - are not unusual among the conservative German business class. The same is not true of his rhetoric and attacks on an institution as widely respected as the ECB.

A graduate of France’s elite National School of Administration, he worked as a civil servant in Germany and France before becoming a private consultant.

In a 2006 book, “Europe without France?”, he criticised France as being in the hands of a 10,000-strong “elite cartel”, interested only in staying in power at all costs.

In “Tichy’s Einblick”, a conservative publication set up by magazine editor Roland Tichy to break what he saw as the cosy consensus of Germany’s media landscape, Kerber regularly attacks former ECB President Mario Draghi for exceeding his authority.

Draghi’s promise that the ECB would do “whatever it takes” to save the euro, which was widely credited with stabilising global markets at the height of the euro zone debt crisis, is a recurring target.

“It is not and never has been the task of the ECB to defend the euro,” he wrote last year. “Whether and how the European currency union should be defended is purely a matter for euro zone governments.”

He goes further in a video clip on the site of his think tank Europolis, saying that while the ECB’s bond-buying programmes might be good news for investors, they harm savers, including pension funds, and destabilise banks.

“Signore Draghi, the Italian ruler of Europe’s money, wants as the final act of his regime to prove that he has the right medicine,” he said after Draghi announced his final round of bond-buying as ECB president last year. (Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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