Finland hints ECB crisis role could be strengthened

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Finland's finance minister said Friday the role of the European Central Bank in fighting the eurozone debt crisis could be toughened if there no alternative, amid a fierce debate in Europe on the issue.

Speaking after meeting her German and Dutch counterparts in Berlin, Jutta Urpilainen told reporters: "I think we have seen that if there is nothing else left then we can think about strengthening the role of the ECB."

"But we prefer the IMF and then also leveraging the EFSF," added the minister, referring to the European Union's bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility.

"What is completely impossible for us is the eurobonds. Those are something that Finland is not accepting," added Urpilainen, responding to a question.

Speaking at the same news conference, Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees De Jager said: "The ECB is independent, so I do not comment on what the ECB should do or should not do."

However, he said there was "no alternative" to eurozone countries carrying out domestic economic reforms and "getting their house in order."

Eurozone countries have been locked in a battle over allowing the ECB to intervene more forcefully to buy the bonds of distressed countries.

France in particularly has called for changing the way the ECB works to allow it greater flexibility to attack the crisis, but Germany has steadfastly opposed any interference in the affairs of the independent central bank.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been under pressure to allow the ECB to become Europe's lender of last resort but, after talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, she reiterated that its role would remain unchanged.

The ECB has as its sole mandate to keep inflation at "close to, but below" two percent.

© 2011 AFP

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