The European Central Bank (ECB) is the prime component of the Eurosystem and the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) as well as one of seven institutions of the European Union. It is one of the world's most important central banks.
The European Central Bank is the de facto successor of the European Monetary Institute (EMI). The EMI was established at the start of the second stage of the EU's Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) to handle the transitional issues of states adopting the euro and prepare for the creation of the ECB and European System of Central Banks (ESCB). The EMI itself took over from the earlier European Monetary Cooperation Fund (EMCF).
The ECB formally replaced the EMI on 1 June 1998 by virtue of the Treaty on European Union (TEU, Treaty of Maastricht), however it did not exercise its full powers until the introduction of the euro on 1 January 1999, signalling the third stage of EMU.
The bank is based in Ostend (East End), Frankfurt am Main. The city is the largest financial centre in the Eurozone and the bank's location in it is fixed by the Amsterdam Treaty. The bank moved to a new purpose-built headquarters in 2014, designed by a Vienna-based architectural office, Coop Himmelbau. The building is approximately 180 metres (591 ft) tall and is to be accompanied by other secondary buildings on a landscaped site on the site of the former wholesale market in the eastern part of Frankfurt am Main. The main construction on a 120,000 m2 total site area began in October 2008, and it was expected that the building would become an architectural symbol for Europe.
Unlike many other central banks, the ECB does not have a dual mandate where it has to pursue two equally important objectives such as price stability and full employment (like the US Federal Reserve System). The ECB has only one primary objective – price stability – subject to which it may pursue secondary objectives.
There are several concrete examples where the ECB is less transparent than other institutions:
Voting secrecy : while other central banks publish the voting record of its decision makers, the ECB's Governing Council decisions are made in full discretion. Since 2014, the ECB has published "accounts" of its monetary policy meetings, but those remain rather vague and do not include individual votes.
Access to documents : The obligation for EU bodies to make documents freely accessible after a 30-year embargo applies to the ECB. However, under the ECB's Rules of Procedure the Governing Council may decide to keep individual documents classified beyond the 30-year period.
Disclosure of securities: The ECB is less transparent than the Fed when it comes to disclosing the list of securities being held in its balance sheet under monetary policy operations such as QE.