Mário Centeno
Governor of the Bank of Portugal Mário Centeno

Central bank boss did not undermine integrity over replacing prime minister

ECB’s ethics committee sees nothing wrong in Mário Centeno’s conduct

The Ethics Committee of the European Central Bank has concluded that the governor of the Bank of Portugal did not act in a way that compromised his independence in the case of the prime minister’s invitation to replace him in the toxic aftermath of Operation Influencer.

Said a statement from the ECB president Christine Lagarde to MEPs who questioned her on the case: “The Ethics Committee considers that Mr Centeno did not act in a way that compromised his independence as a member of the Governing Council of the ECB or harm the interests of the Union.

“Consequently, he has complied with the requirements of the ECB’s Single Code of Conduct.” 

The reply included the opinion, signed by Erkki Liikanen, which considers that the “Ethics Committee has found no indication that at any time the governor of the Bank of Portugal, Mário Centeno expressed or confirmed his intention to accept the suggestion of the prime minister, António Costa”.

As Lusa explains, at issue is the controversy over the fact that the name of Mário Centeno (a former minister of finance in previous Socialist Party governments) was proposed by the current prime minister to replace him in the post (after António Costa resigned due to a judicial investigation), which led to criticism from opposition parties, which considered that Centeno’s independence as governor of the central bank was in question.

The Ethics Committee considered that Mário Centeno’s independence “cannot be considered to have been jeopardised”, since he was not formally invited to take up the post of prime minister, nor was it clear whether he was “inclined to accept”.

The opinion also points out that the fact that the governor of the Bank of Portugal did not notify Christine Lagarde and/or the Ethics Committee itself, as would have been required by the Single Code, can be seen as a sign that he had no intention of taking on the role of prime minister, or that his reflections “had not yet matured enough to require concrete action”.

The Ethics Committee further explains that it requested and obtained knowledge of the facts and received confirmation that, in the course of the events immediately following António Costa’s resignation as prime minister, Mário Centeno “maintained his full working hours at the Bank of Portugal and total discretion”, with the aim of “protecting the interests” of the institution he leads.

Speaking to the Financial Times on Sunday 12 November, the governor of the Bank of Portugal said that he had “an invitation from the Portuguese president and prime minister to reflect and consider the possibility of leading the government” and that he was “a long way from making a decision”.

In reaction, in the early hours of Sunday to Monday, the country’s president published a note denying that he had invited anyone to head the government, including Mário Centeno.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa’s statement led Centeno to correct his statement, and ultimately to the extraordinary meeting of the Bank of Portugal’s Ethics Committee, to evaluate whether any ‘misconduct’ had taken place.

However, the committee did add that “on an objective level, subsequent political and media developments could damage the Bank’s image“, considering that “the defence of the institution is even more important in a period such as the current one”.

In this sense, the committee recommended that “the governor, the management and the Bank as a whole remain committed to safeguarding the image and reputation of the Bank of Portugal“.

Mr Centeno was previously ‘cleared’ by the Bank of Portugal’s own ethics commission.