Coeure Case Shows How Errors Impact EU Citizens, Ombudsman Says

A mistake by the European Central Bank that led some investors to gain market-sensitive information early shows how failings at public bodies can impact the democratic process, European Union Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said.

A closed-door speech on May 18 by ECB board member Benoit Coeure, which wasn’t publicly released until a day later, demonstrates “in quite a graphic way, the link between a simple act of poor administration -- in this case a technical glitch -- and issues of democratic accountability and legitimacy,” O’Reilly said in a speech on Monday delivered in Brussels and published on her agency’s website.

O’Reilly wrote to ECB President Mario Draghi last month asking for an explanation of the error, which led to guests at a dinner co-hosted by a research group linked to hedge fund Brevan Howard Asset Management being told how the ECB plans to front-load asset purchases in its quantitative-easing program. In his reply two weeks later, Draghi argued that the information was already in the public domain.

“The ombudsman was able to track a path from computer glitch through to a wider exploration of how a powerful EU institution, such as the ECB, ensures that private interests are not preferred over those of the ordinary citizen with zero access to events,” O’Reilly said.

The ECB has yet to outline how it will change its communication processes in the aftermath of the speech.

Draghi “explained what had happened but also announced his intention to review the bank’s protocols in relation to its speech and other engagements,” O’Reilly said. “I look forward to the outcome of that review and the concrete proposals that emerge.”

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