ECB's Weidmann says Italy cannot count on aid

BERLIN Sat Mar 16, 2013 8:22am GMT

Jens Weidmann, President of Germany's federal reserve bank Bundesbank addresses the media during the bank's annual news conference in Frankfurt, March 12, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Jens Weidmann, President of Germany's federal reserve bank Bundesbank addresses the media during the bank's annual news conference in Frankfurt, March 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Italy cannot count on the European Central Bank (ECB) buying up its bonds if its borrowing costs rise as a result of its politicians discussing rowing back on reforms, ECB Bank policymaker Jens Weidmann warned in a German magazine.

Financial markets have been on tenterhooks since Italy's election less than two weeks ago in which the centre left won a majority in Italy's lower house of parliament but failed to gain the Senate majority it would need to govern.

During wrangling over how to form the next government, two leaders of parties which scored strongly in the elections have made comments that have unsettled markets.

The anti-establishment politician Beppe Grillo has said he wants a referendum on Italy's use of the euro, while former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has criticised what he sees as German economic "diktat" in the currency bloc.

"If important political actors in Italy discuss turning back on reforms or Italy leaving the currency union, and as a result yields for Italian sovereign bonds rise, this cannot and must not be a reason for the central bank to intervene," Weidmann told Focus magazine in an interview.

Weidmann, who is a member of the ECB's Governing Council and also heads the German Bundesbank, said each country bore its own responsibility.

Weidmann opposed the ECB's yet-to-be-used bond-buy plan agreed last September and believes euro zone governments must shape up their economies to exit the crisis rather than look to the ECB for help.

He said in the magazine interview the euro zone crisis was not over yet, and would only be once structural problems such as lack of competitiveness and high indebtedness had been resolved.

"The impression everything is back to usual just because the situation on the financial markets has eased is deceptive and problematic," he said.

Weidmann added that the idea of reducing the debt loads of countries through higher inflation was very dangerous.

"If you allow inflation once, then you can no longer tame it," he said.

He warned against underestimating mid to long-term risks to stability, adding that there should be no doubt the ECB would tighten monetary policy again when the time was right.

Weidmann said he saw the independence of central banks endangered by increasing pressure from politicians.

"This trend of more political influence is not restricted only to the euro area, it is a worldwide phenomenon."

Weidmann also said he expected Germany to continue its policy of moderate wage increases, as both employers and unions had "shown themselves to be responsible in the past years".

(Reporting By Sarah Marsh; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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